The importance of isolating a sick animal

Treating sick animals simply comes with the job of raising livestock. It can be devastating if a disease makes its way through some or all of a producer’s animals. But take heart – there are management practices that can help reduce the spread of illnesses through a herd or flock. 

Livestock experts hold several schools of thought on the issue of isolating sick animals. Producers need to assess a variety of variables before determining whether to isolate, and if so, for how long. 

Isolating a Sick Animal 

First, consider the advantages of separating a sick animal from its counterparts. “Producers should isolate an animal that is sick so that disease spread is as limited as possible,” Rosslyn Biggs, DVM, assistant clinical professor, director of continuing education and beef cattle extension specialist at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said.

According to Biggs, an isolated animal should be as far as possible from other animals, at a minimum 30 feet. “This distance may not be enough though depending on the infectious agent and route of spread,” Biggs said. “Nose-to-nose contact and sharing of feed, hay and water should be avoided altogether.”

New to the Farm 

Experts recommend producers sequester animals brought in from other areas. “If you bought a breeding animal and are bringing them into your herd, I would definitely isolate them for 30 to 60 days,” Bryan Kutz, Ph.D., professor in the Animal Science Department at the University of Arkansas, explained. 

The length of proposed isolation is due to the incubation period of many infectious agents. While an animal may seem healthy upon arrival, symptoms of illness may not emerge for quite some time. 

Born and Raised on the Farm

There are times when producers can make an exception to the isolation practice. This occurs when the animal has been on the farm since birth. “There is no reason to isolate them if they have been with them their whole life,” Kutz stated. 

However, many times producers will want to bring the sick animal to a pen or barn for treatment. The animal may stay in those quarters for a period of time to facilitate healing. “That is more about getting the animal well, than about isolating them from the whole herd, because they have been with them the whole time,” Kutz said. 

Sick Pen Biosecurity Measures 

It’s not just the sick animal that can spread illness and disease, producers can too. According to Dr. Biggs, the following biosecurity measures are a good place to start to protect healthy animals.


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