Experts weigh in on treatment and prevention 

The winter months usher in a variety of challenges for cattle producers. Mother Nature’s blustery shenanigans constantly keep producers on their toes. The frigid temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns can put a strain on an animal’s immune system. During cold spells and throughout the rest of the year as well, bacterial pneumonia is a herd health issue that can be troublesome for producers. 

Signs of Bacterial Pneumonia

Dr. Craig Payne, extension veterinarian with the University of Missouri, advises producers to remember the acronym DART when looking for clinical signs of pneumonia in cattle. Depression, decreased Appetite, increased Respiration, and increased Temperature are all warning signs the animal could have pneumonia. 

Depression – take note if an animal hangs back from the rest of the group, exhibits a droopy head and/or ears, or if the animal seems reluctant to move. 

Appetite – watch for signs of weight loss, gauntness, or refusal to come up with the rest of the herd to eat. 

Respiration – respiratory changes to keep an eye on include deep or labored breathing, coughing, and discharge from nose and eyes. 

Temperature – livestock experts state, generally animals with temperatures higher than 104 degrees Fahrenheit may need treatment.

Veterinarians encourage producers to observe their herds closely on a regular basis. The particular symptoms will be different from animal to animal. “Animals will exhibit varying degrees of clinical signs depending on the severity of disease and the individual animal,” Dr. Craig Payne, explained. 

Treatment for Bacterial Pneumonia

When it comes to treatment, Dr. Payne says the administration of an antimicrobial is often warranted. It is necessary to consult with your veterinarian to determine the best treatment plan. The sooner the illness is detected and treated, the better the outcome for the animal. If it is left untreated for too long, pneumonia can be fatal. 

Preventing Pneumonia

Two factors to consider when looking at preventing pneumonia are immunity and biocontainment. In order to help support and improve immune function, producers should provide their herd with adequate nutrition, minimize stressors and ensure animals receive their vaccinations.

According to Dr. Payne, biocontainment refers to management practices that are implemented to reduce the spread of an infectious agent within a livestock operation. Biocontainment requires producers to obtain an understanding of disease dynamics and may require additional management procedures. 

Though it may be added work, biocontainment can be highly effective in the prevention of pneumonia and other illnesses. “One thing I encourage producers to think through are the strategies that can minimize or eliminate contact between animals that are at highest risk for shedding pathogens and those that are at highest risk for being impacted,” Payne stated. 

For example, Dr. Payne suggests in order to decrease risk of exposure to respiratory pathogens in newly weaned calves, do not commingle or place them in a pen next to a group of calves that were weaned a week prior. The reason for this is that the seven-day weaned calves could be in the beginning phases of a pneumonia event, therefore exposing the newly weaned calves to high levels of pathogen. 

Additionally, livestock producers who are looking to establish a pneumonia prevention plan should seek advice from a local veterinarian who is familiar with their operation. 


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