Va. vet talks cattle death at health conference
BLACKSBURG, Va. (Feb. 27, 2018) — Anyone in the livestock industry knows finding a dead animal in the field or barn is a fact of life for them. The why and wherefore of the death may often be a mystery that cannot be solved.
Dr. Meghan Brookhart, clinical instructor of production management medicine in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, outlined some of the things that can happen to cattle during a recent Beef Cattle Health Conference at Virginia Tech. Brookhart stressed taking measures to prevent sudden death because it is often too late if symptoms are occurring.
While such things as vaccinations, deworming and appropriate nutrition including minerals/grass and hay can help they do not totally solve the problem, she said.
“There are some things that are unavoidable, however we do our best to minimize it,” Brookhart said.
Her presentation concentrated on, but was not limited to, things that cause sudden death in cattle in Southwest Virginia, the area from which attendees were drawn.
Postmortem examinations, called necropsy in animals and autopsy in humans, are a tool, which help determine the cause when an animal has died suddenly.
She noted that while the situation may be acute externally, chronic changes may have happened internally. This can only be learned through a necropsy.
In some cases, sample collection is more easily, accurately and safely done in a lab than in the field.
Brookhart led the audience through a number of common and uncommon causes of sudden death in cattle and made suggestions for prevention.
Two clostridial illnesses were reviewed in the common category. One, Peracute blackleg, can be prevented with vaccination. If caught in time, high doses of penicillin are indicated, she wrote. However, she added, the cattle are usually dead before the illness is detected.
The second is acute feeders death, or enterotoxemia, with no symptoms and no treatment.
She also discussed grass tetany, a condition caused by low magnesium circulating in the blood. Prevention can be achieved with appropriate mineral management and treatment is possible by giving magnesium through an IV.
More uncommon causes may not be preventable, she said, but good management practices that include careful observation, keeping known toxins away from cattle and vaccination when available and deworming can be tools in the battle against sudden death.
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