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Pneumonia continues to cause considerable financial losses to dairy farmer and beef producers. Losses include deaths, high veterinary, labour and treatment costs and, significantly, depressed subsequent performance in animals that appear to have recovered from the disease.

Cost of pneumonia

The costs of pneumonia are significant. Estimates vary between £82 per affected suckler calf and £43 per dairy calf, with costs rising significantly when re-treatments are required1. Some of the costs, such as treatment and calf mortality, are highly visible at the time of an outbreak. Others, such as the impact on cattle growth rates, are much harder to quantify, but highly significant nonetheless.

Disease management

Environmental factors and infectious organisms interact to affect the incidence and severity of pneumonia. Disease control programmes must address both issues:

Environmental factors
Environmental factors can stress a calf and weaken its defences, allowing infection to take hold. There are a number of factors involved and these include:
  • Sick animals not isolated
  • Mixing groups of calves
  • Transport stress
  • Exposure to draughts
  • Overstocking
  • Inadequate ventilation
  • Extremes of temperature
  • Poor hygiene/drainage
  • Poor access to feed
Infectious organisms
Viruses, bacteria and mycoplasmas cause pneumonia. Viruses may cause serious disease on their own, but frequently weaken a calf’s natural defences, allowing bacterial infections to take hold and potentially kill the animal. Pneumonia viruses cannot be killed by antibiotics, but may be prevented by vaccination.
Bacterial infection can give rise to the most serious pneumonia outbreaks. It is the toxic and inflammatory effects of the bacteria that cause lung damage.

Signs of pneumonia

Pneumonia can strike at any time, but you need to be particularly vigilant during the 'high risk' pneumonia months of November through to January, when the majority of cases of calf pneumonia occur. Livestock should be observed frequently. Look and listen as often as possible for:
  • Coughing
  • Weeping eyes
  • Running noses
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Animals off their feed
If you have any suspicions, take the animal’s temperature:
  • The ideal body temperature is 101.5°F (38.5°C)
  • A temperature above 103°F (39.5°C) suggests infection (and probably lung damage) is already advancing
Preventing pneumonia
There really is no substitute for good husbandry. Not overstocking, keeping house humidity down, maintaining adequate ventilation, avoiding extremes of temperature, ensuring age groups are not mixed and practising sound hygiene are all integral elements of any pneumonia management plan. Good nutrition too, is an important part of helping to reduce the impact of disease.

Use of vaccines
Vaccines are available against the common viral causes of pneumonia and the bacterium Mannheimia haemolytica (previously called Pasteurella haemolytica). (See Management)

Treating pneumonia
A robust disease treatment plan is as important as a pre-emptive plan. Seek veterinary advice for the most appropriate disease treatment regime.

1. Andrews AH, BCVA Spring 2000. Vol. 8, Part 2.
2. VIDA data from 2011 to 2013 on calves under six months of age.

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