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150lb calf 3 month old no cough dies.what could be wrong?

150lb calf 3 month old no cough dies.what could be wrong?
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8/1/2012
Dr. B.
Dr. B., Board Certified Veterinarian
Category: Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 21,664
Experience: General practice veterinary surgeon with extensive experience in a wide range of species.
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Thank you for your question.
Calf death can arise with a wide range of conditions.
You mentioned that the calf wasn't coughing but was it showing any signs of being unwell?

Sneezing? Nasal discharge?

Fever?

Scours? Bloating?

What was its vaccination history? Any worming at this stage?
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Customer reply replied 5 years ago

One round of blackleg and repertory . None of the above.

Thank you for the additional information.


Well this calf has not given you a lot to go on. Therefore we are quite limited in narrowing the differentials to a single cause of death. Rather we have to consider the range of agents that can manifest as sudden death in the calf.

If we are seeing a single calf affected then we do have first consider congenital/birth defects (heart, kidney, etc), as well as infectious (viral or bacterial), parasitic, nutritional, and toxic causes.

Any acute infectious agent can cause sudden death if they are virulent enough or the animal is inoculated with a large enough dose. That said, there are those that are more likely to so routinely. The first to consider is Anthrax. While it is probably not our top differentials here, but we need to appreciate it manifests as sudden death in in-contact animals and poses a serious public health risk (not to mention soil contamination). Therefore, ideally this should be checked for before considering opening these animals.

The other big bacterial differential associated with sudden death are the members of the Clostridia family. Now it is worth double checking which vaccine you are using and which clostridia are covered. As well, it might be worth reviewing your vaccine schedule relative to the vaccine product to make sure you are obtaining maximum protection. Blackleg (clostridium chauvoei) is one concern in this bacterial group but the rest can cause just as much bother .Clostridial disease we can see arise as sudden death include Bacillary hemoglobinuria (clostridium haemolyticum), Black disease(clostridium novyi), , Botulism (clostridium botulinum), and Tetanus (C. tetani)

Other bacteria that can cause sudden death, but we would hope for more hint of disease would include Caseous lymphadenitis (occasionally), Leptospirosis, and Listeriosis.

Parasitic agents don’t tend to be so aggressive as to outright kill calves without a hint of disease. Often deaths associated with Coccidiosis, or Coenuriasis will have features of the disease visible in other animals. That said, we do have to consider that Fasciola hepatica (the liver fluke) is quite capable of an aggressive sudden death campaign. This will usually due to acute severe ingestion of fluke where death is precipitated by a massive migration of juvenile fluke in the liver (rather then adult fluke). This maceration of the liver by these young fluke can be a common cause of death in young beasts (of course this is relative to how much exposure they may have to grass and the intermediate snail host).

Turning to nutritional issues, we have to consider both toxicities and deficiencies. Sudden death can arise associated with overdosing with copper, cobalt, and selenium. Otherwise, the deficiencies which can manifest as sudden death in young calves include severe hypocalcemia, hypomagnesemia, thiamine deficiency and deficiencies in Vitamin A and E. As well, the double edge sword of selenium means that low selenium is also a concern.

Finally, we need to consider the potential for these wee ones to come in contact with toxins. Plant based concernes would include bracken, ragwort, among others). That said, we do still have to consider toxins that may be contaminating their environment. Therefore, it is worth evaluating their locale and double checking that there aren’t any obvious toxins present (ie. Rodenticide, Arsenic, Lead, Zinc, Organophosphate, Salt poisoning, etc).

Overall, there are a lot of agents to consider for a dead calf with no clinical signs. To solve this mystery it would be strongly advisable that if you have this calf or any additional sudden deaths among this group submited for post mortem. If you speak to the vet, they may be able to perform the autopsy in the practice. If they cannot find an obvious cause of death, they can collect samples to submit to the lab for the pathologists to evaluate.

Alternatively, (and even better) if you have a local pathology lab, then it would be ideal to have this calf evaluated by a pathology specialist. The pathologists will be able to examine the tissues (grossly if they do the PM and) under the microscope to determine the causative agent that lead to death. They will be able to evaluate the GI for worm burdens and the liver for acute fluke infestation. They will be able to analyse tissue samples to determine if there is any issue with mineral imbalance. As well, if bacterial or viral causes are suspected, these can be cultured to determine what is to blame so that you can take the necessary steps to defend the herd from this appropriately.


I hope this information is helpful.
Please do let me know if you have any further questions.
If you have no further questions, feedback is always appreciated.

All the best,

Dr. B.

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Dr. B.
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