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TheDairySite Newsletter - 25 September 2015

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Friday 25th September 2015.
Michael Priestley - Editor

Michael Priestley

MSD Animal Health

Advancing Pneumonia Pathogen Linked to Droopy Ears in Calves

Increasing reports of a pneumonia pathogen in calves either side of the Atlantic in recent years have been linked with ear infections in youngstock.

Veterinarians are warning that Mycoplamsma bovis, an insidious and costly infection, is on the increase, showing a tendency to colonise the ear canal.

This has been emphasised by findings of a pneumonia pathogen survey of over 2,500 UK samples, showing an increase of four per cent between 2013 and 2014.

Dr Carolyn Hogan of Zoetis UK, the organisation that conducted the tests, said the amount of calves that tested positive was “surprising”.

Positive samples submitted by veterinarians for analysis increased from 41 per cent to 45 per cent in 2014.

A known and understood cause of mastitis in the US for some years, Mycoplasma bovis has now become a key issue as part of respiratory illness in the UK cattle industry, according to Dr Tim Potter, Westpoint Veterinary Group.

Historically, the UK has not been as aware of the pathogen as dairy farmers have in the US, but the bacteria became part of respiratory issues on US farms, with this trend being mirrored in the UK more recently, he explained. 

“We see quite severe infections of the ears, resulting in droopy ears with calves,” said Dr Potter. “It can spread quite rapidly, especially in pens of calves or systems using shared milk feeders.”

With no vaccine available, antibiotic efficacy can be improved by using multiple doses or longer periods of duration, he added.

“Chronic calves can be seen walking around with tilted heads, some struggling with balance issues as well.”

Unsure why the pathogen is on the increase, prevention is key, including avoiding stressing animals, well ventilated buildings and nutrition, said Dr Hogan.

“We are trying to put the message across for farmers that keeping an animal healthy can save you money,” she said. An industry review from Zoetis shows a case of respiratory illness costs an average of £772 pounds through the life of a commercial dairy cow.

“We know there’s an awful lot of work talking about how important early growth performance and early management of the calf is,” she added. “By proactively looking after calves, we can bring savings.”

She stressed that calves can carry the bacteria without becoming infected, although stress opens up the risk of infection.

Dr Potter said: “Animals can carry Mycoplasma bovis in their nasal cavity and it won’t necessarily cause disease. It is not, however, present on every single farm.”

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