BBC Radio 4

Viral Pneumonia in cattle

Writer, The Archers

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Brookfield's coughing calves raised the fear of viral pneumonia. As vet Oli Hodgkinson writes, this can be a serious worry for livestock farmers.

Pneumonia is estimated to cost the UK cattle industry around £60 million yearly. Affected cattle will show varying degrees of symptoms depending on the severity of the illness. Some will simply have a cough, but as the disease progresses the animals have pus running down their nose and breathing becomes more laboured. Eventually they stop eating, collapse and if left untreated will die.

The majority of outbreaks occur within one month of being housed for winter. This is because it is a very stressful time for cattle. They go from being out in a field to being under one roof with lots of other cattle, often with a mixing of age groups. As in any disease situation the younger animals have a poorer immune system than the older animals and so they are more prone to illness.

There are three common causes of viral pneumonia but none of these will infect humans.

Control of the disease is best achieved by attention to general husbandry:

  • Ventilation of buildings should be improved, allowing the muggy infected air to escape being replaced by clean fresh air.
  • There are many vaccines which can be administered which will help prevent pneumonia. These should be administered prior to a stressful period such as housing or weaning.
  • Reducing the amount of cattle under the same roof will help minimise disease.
  • Keeping the younger animals away from the adults.
  • Keeping the bedding clean and dry will reduce the amount of moisture in the air and so reduce pneumonia.

Pneumonia is treated by a variety of antibiotics as well as pain killers. If left too long then there is damage to the lungs and the animal will not recover 100% and always have stunted growth. As vets we point out to the farmer that prevention is better than cure.

Oli Hodgkinson BVSc, Cert SH&P, MRCVS works at Trefaldwyn Vets, Montgomery, Powys.

  • Pictures, provided by Trefaldwyn Vets, show a bullock with pus coming from the nose, and overstocking in a cattle shed.

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