As calves are being weaned and the fall weather fluctuates, a common problem we see in calves is coccidiosis. Coccidia are protozoan parasites that inhabit the large and small intestines of cattle, and in the case of severe infestation, cause damage to the intestinal mucosa (lining), causing blood and/or slimy, gelatin-like mucosal lining to appear on the manure of affected animals.
Coccidiosis is most commonly seen after a stressful event in a calf’s life. The traditional method of weaning, where calves are pulled off cows suddenly, is very stressful and frequently is enough of a stressor to cause a calf to “break” with coccidiosis. Extreme weather variations, commingling with other calves, rapid dietary changes, and transporting calves can all lead to coccidiosis, as well.
Coccidiosis can cause decreased weight gain and conversion, anemia, decreased immune system function, depression, dehydration, and in very severe cases, death. In some cases, coccidiosis can display as the nervous form, which causes calves to display incoordination, staggering, tremors, and seizure-like activity.
Coccidiosis is an extremely costly disease with losses associated with decreased performance and feed conversion, increased susceptibility to other illnesses, especially bovine respiratory disease (BRD), and treatment expense.
Coccidiosis can only be definitively diagnosed by microscopic examination of manure to identify coccidia oocysts (eggs), but red flags should be raised when blood or mucus is visible on manure, or cattle have loose, runny stools and messy tails. Additionally, calves affected with coccidiosis may have a dull, unthrifty appearance, and may not respond as well as expected to antibiotic treatment for BRD, due to the potential anemia and immunosuppression that can occur with coccidiosis.
Coccidiosis can be treated with Amprolium, (name-brand Corid or Deccox). Amprolium added to the water for 5 days is the best way to treat known coccidiosis infections on a group basis, it can also be used in water or feed for 21 days as a preventative. Individual calves with coccidiosis can be treated with an oral drench of amprolium, sulfa boluses, and an injectable antibiotic such as oxytetracycline or Nuflor. Nervous cases should be treated the same, but Dexamethasone and potentially Vitamin B Complex or thiamine should be added and may speed recovery.
Rumensin and Bovatec are coccidiostats, which help reduce the odds of coccidia causing infections, but they are not completely preventative and not curative. Rations with either of these products are helpful in reducing risk of coccidiosis, but when conditions are prime for coccidia, they are not enough to hold them at bay.
Coccidiosis can be a very costly problem for our producers, but when steps are taken to prevent it when possible, and to identify it when we can’t, your cattle and your bottom line can benefit. Please contact us with any questions regarding coccidiosis or any other animal health concerns!