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Management Diseases: Milk fever, Mastitis, Diarrhea, Mucosal disease
Milk Fever

Milk fever is a disease of mature cows, occurring a few days before, but mostly just after calving. It is common in imported high yielding dairy cows, especially Channel Island breeds such as Jerseys or Guernseys. Milk fever is not known in the indigenous stock. Milk fever is caused by low calcium levels in the body due to the sudden onset of lactation at calving. The nutritional status of the cow in the dry period is known to influence the risk of the disease. Diets low in dry matter such as lush pastures and diets with high calcium during dry period can predispose the cow to milk fever. Low magnesium in the diet hinders absorption of calcium and hence is predisposing to milk fever.
The disease is more risky in cows after third calving and is rare in calving heifers.

Signs of Milk fever

  • The first sign of the disease is loss in appetite followed by slight drop in temperature.
  • The affected animal become uncoordinated, fall over and remain seated with the head resting on the shoulder.
  • Dull eyes and shivering, constipation is a common feature and sometimes a goose-stepping gait is seen.
  • If not treated immediately, the animal may go into coma and die within a day after the first signs. Since the rumen stops functioning, bloat becomes a complication and may cause death

Prevention - Control - Treatment

Prevention and Control
  • Feed the cow with the correct levels of nutrients from the late pregnancy to peak lactation
  • Feed diets with the right dry matter content such as offering additional hay in combination with lush pasture.
  • Feed balanced mineral supplement which appreciates the inter-relationship between calcium and magnesium

Recommended treatment
If the cow is found to be lying on her side she should be immediately propped on to her chest. Otherwise she is liable to get bloat or inhale stomach content with the attendant risk of developing aspiration pneumonia. But do NOT use rocks or boulders!
Slow intra venous infusion 400 ml of 20% calcium borogluconate should be administered as soon as is possible. If this is difficult then give the same volume by subcutaneous injection. Give in several sites and massage the sites of injection to disperse the solution. At the same time remove the calf. Response to treatment is seen by the cow belching, snapping and opening her eyelids, breathing deeply, passing dung and sitting up. Even if the cow appears to be unconscious give i/v calcium. Even cases which look hopeless can recover. The calf should be removed and the cow not milked for 24 hours. On day two milk half the estimated volume from each quarter and feed this to the calf. On day three milk normally. If the calf is allowed unrestrained access to the cow or if unrestrained milking is carried out the cow may well go down again. Get a flutter valve and have it clean and ready for use. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to give 400 ml calcium by i/v injection with a 20 ml syringe and it is guaranteed to damage the jugular vein.

Mastitis is an inflammation of the udder of milking animals. It is caused by bacterial micro-organisms, mainly streptococci and the staphylococci which are common in the animal and the animal environment. The infection occurs when the micro organisms gain access to the udder through the teat canal. The infections in the udder affect the quantity and quality of the secreted milk. The disease is known to cause economic losses of up to 40 % of the herd productivity.
The disease occurs wherever and whenever the animals are bred, fed and managed with the intention to increase milk supply. Indeed the higher the level of production, the higher the occurrence unless there is very strict control measures continuously put in place. The animal is predisposed to the disease by several factors such as the age, state of lactation, milk yield, hereditary factors, trauma and lack of hygiene. Animals get most often mastitis when they have just had babies and are giving most milk. Pigs get sometimes mastitis when their teats are bitten by the sharp teeth of baby pigs.
Sheep and goats can get very severe mastitis called contagious agalactia.

Signs of Mastitis

There are three forms of mastitis:
Sub-clinical mastitis which can only be detected by the laboratory examination of milk drawn from the udder of affected cow. This form of mastitis is mainly caused by streptococcus agalactiae which is found in the animal. Where production of milk is meant for export market, this form of mastitis is known to contribute to a big proportion of rejected milk.
Mild clinical mastitis has distinct changes in the udder sometimes detectable by touching it. In this form, the udder becomes firm to the touch in one or more quarters. The changes in milk are, however more definite. This form of mastitis can be examined using the black plate in the strip-cup. Milk can be seen to be of watery consistence and of abnormal color, which often could be pinkish, or yellowish due to blood staining. Flakes or clots in milk may as well be noticed by the strip - cup test.
Acute or severe clinical mastitis in which, milk changes are more definite with the udder having typical inflamed signs. The milk changes consist of yellow sediment sometimes with blood clots. The milk may also appear green or yellow-green and even with foul smell especially when the infection is caused by pus forming bacteria (the Corynebacterium pyogenes). The udder changes consist of swelling and pain. The teats may reveal injury signs at closer observation. As the disease progresses, the udder becomes hard, the milk yield decreases and milk becomes thin, watery or grey in color.

Use of proper mastitis diagnostic kits
  • Farmers are advised to carry out regular milk sampling for bacteriological and chemical analysis in well-equipped laboratories to guarantee quality and ensure safety. The analysis can be done by the Department of Veterinary services in the Veterinary Investigation Laboratories (VIL) milk testing laboratories of the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Development.

  • The use of a strip-cup when milking is strongly recommended as a means of giving a first indication of the presence of mastitis in the herd. A strip-cup is cup shaped metal container of a quarter litre capacity with a ledge about 3 cm down from the rim on which a disc of fine gauze or shiny black top plate sits. The gauze allows milk to pass through but flakes and clots are held while the black plate picks discolorations as well as other abnormalities in milk.

  • California mastitis or Schalm test can also be used by the farmers. This test detects rapidily and clearly high levels of leucocytes in milk. The test kit (plastic paddle) together with the test solution is obtainable from the firms dealing in dairy equipment.

Strip cup for testing mastitis
© William Ayako, Kari Naivasha
California mastitis tester
© William Ayako, Kari Naivasha
Drawing milk from different teats on a CMT to test for mastitis
© William Ayako, Kari Naivasha

Prevention - Control - Treatment

Prevention and Control
  • Use frequently mastitis tests such as strip cup for an accurate determination of mastitis in herd
  • Disinfect teats with mastrite solution. Apply mastrite solution using antispill cup. The solution is available in the following forms: hypochlorite, iodophor and chlorhexidine.
  • Where only a few animals are positive, culling can be done.
  • Herd autogenous vaccines can be used but they are expensive

Since mastitis is a management disease in a dairy farm, it will some time persist even with the most careful hygiene. With this in mind, dairy farmers are advised to adhere to the following eight control measures:

1. Milk the cows having mastitis last.
2. Milkers should thoroughly wash their hands before and after milking each cow.
3. Hot water mixed with a dairy disinfectant should always be available in the dairy.
4. A separate clean udder cloth or a disposable tissue paper should be at hand for cleaning of the udder.
5. First streams of milk from each quarter of the udder used to test for mastitis should not be dropped on the floor but should be directed into a separate container with a dairy disinfectant.
6. Constant running of water over the floor of a milking shed is advantageous.
7. Where machine milking is practiced, footbath with disinfectant should always be provided.
8. Normal milk room hygiene including washing of containers and equipment should be continuous.

It is worthwhile for farmers to note that the most essential prerequisite to develop any control program is an accurate determination of the extent of the disease in the herd. If the above control measures are followed by the farmers, the veterinary costs of treating the disease would be minimized.

A farmer checking for mastitis
Recommended treatment of mastitis
  • Treat the animals as soon as possible
  • Keep the udder as empty as possible by milking the animal as often as you can. - Infected milk can transmit infection to other animals

A cow with mastitis undergoing treatment
© William Ayako, Kari Naivasha
Multi ject tubes for treatment of mastitis
© William Ayako, Kari Naivasha
Apply antibiotics directly into the udder. The following antibiotics can be infused through teat canal:
  • Penicillin at a dose rate of 50 - 200,000 units
  • Tetracycline at a dose rate of 100 - 400 mg
  • Streptomycin at a dose rate of 0.25 - 1 g
  • Neomycin at a dose rate of 0.5 - 1 g
  • Polymixin at a dose rate of 50 mg
  • Erythromycin at a dose rate of 300 - 600 mg

How to apply antibiotic directly into the teat:
Step 1 : Milk the udder until it is empty
Step 2: Clean the end of the teat
Step 3: Put the tip of the tube into the teat and squeeze the antibiotic up into the udder
Step 4: Massage the teat and the udder

  • If the disease is severe, also give antibiotics by injection!

The following drugs can be used:
  • Penicillin at 5 million units every 12 hours
  • Tetracycline at 1 - 3 g every 24 hours
  • Streptomycin at 10 - 11 mg per kg body weight every 24 hours

Common traditional practices:
  • Turkana: (1) Mix a handful of dikdik faeces with a little water to make paste. Smear the mixture onto the udders and teats. Leave it overnight. Do not allow the calf to suckle. The swelling goes down by the next morning. (2) Burn dry donkey faeces in a pot. Put the pot under the udder of the sick animal until it swets. Repeat if the condition does not improve

  • Luo: Crush a handful of oyieko (Sesbania sesban) leaves. Mix with 125g of cream or butter for 5 minutes. Rub the mixture into the affected area until the swelling disappears.

  • Kipsigis: Chew a handful of chemogong (Ajuga remota) leaves and stems. Spit 2 mouthfuls of the juice and saliva directly onto the swollen udder once a day for 7 days.

(Source: ITDG and IIRR 1996)

Diarrhea is a common disease in livestock and poultry, especially in newborns. It occurs in many diseases and is not itself a specific disease. It is caused by a few single specific micro-organisms or combined micro-organisms which include: Escherichia coli, Salmonellae, Viruses and Protozoa. This form of diarrhea is transmitted via the environment where the animal is kept and the calves become exposed to these organisms at early age. Through fecal droppings, from mature cattle, calves or other species of animals' pathogens contaminate the environment. Only when the environmental load of the organisms' increases to high levels, the calves can become infected. However, the disease is more serious in intensive than extensive system.
A brief outline of the infectious organisms causing diarrhea is as follows:

Signs of Diarrhea

Most of the organisms which cause the infection are capable of damaging the intestinal wall. They cause hence reduced absorption of the fluids taken by the calf resulting into diarrhea which can be blood stained.
The infected calves become dehydrated. They become weak, lose appetite, get a low body temperature (hypothermia) and heart failure. The eyes become conspicuously sunken and are dull looking with the skin becoming dry.

Escherichia coli
Is common and found in large numbers in the intestines of all animals including adult and young calves.
E. coli cause acute diarrhea lasting one to four days. The calves become depressed, weak and lack appetite. There may be a high fever at the initial stages of development then the temperature drops below normal and the calf may die.

There are many different species of Salmonella that can infect and cause severe disease in young calves with bloody stained diarrhea. The most common are: Salmonella typhirium and Salmonella dublin. Outbreaks of salmonellosis can cause death of the infected calves. Those that survive may take several weeks to recover.

Clostridium perfringens
These organisms cause diarrhea with blood stains (dysentery) often with abdominal pains and death within twenty four hours.

Rotavirus and corona virus
These viruses invade the intestinal lining and are the cause of profuse diarrhea in calves.

The diarrhea caused by these organisms tends to persist for several weeks and the severity depend on the level of infection. The infection is normally mild and animals tend to recover satisfactorily.

These parasites are major cause of diarrhea in calves which are several months old. There cause loss of appetite and profuse yellow and watery diarrhea.

Prevention - Control - Treatment

Prevention and Control
  • Get a new-born to drink enough the mother's first milk (the colostrum ) from its mother in the first 24 hours of its life. Adequate feeding of colostrum to calves at birth provides passive immunity to calves.
  • Control intestinal parasites properly
  • Vaccinate animals against diseases that cause diarrhea.
  • Clean calf pens regularly
  • Avoid over crowding of calves
  • Find out which specific organism is causing the disease. This requires a laboratory test on feces samples or rectal swabs handled by a skilled veterinarian, since some of the pathogens are harmful to human. Where the pathogens are known, the right antibiotic for effective control of the disease can be applied.
  • Isolate calves with diarrhea from the healthy ones.
Mucosal disease
Mucosal Disease is caused by the same virus which causes Bovine Viral Diarrhoea. Both are manifestations of infection by the same virus. At one time it was thought that these were two separate diseases. Mucosal Disease refers to the condition in cattle persistently infected with noncytopathogenic BVD virus when they become superinfected with cytopathogenic virus and develop clinical disease. Incidence is low but mortality is high. The virus occurs all over the world and is probably more widespread than most people think, even in Kenya. Cattle that are persistently infected with noncytopathic Bovine Viral Diarrhoea Virus serve as a natural reservoir of virus. Transmission can occur post-natally by aerosol contact with infected secretions and excretions shed by persistently infected animals. Needle transmission can occur. Pre-natal persistent infection develops when noncytopathic virus is transmitted transplacentally during the first 4 months of foetal development. The calf is born infected and remains infected for life. Transplacental infection that occurs later in gestation results in abortion, congenital malformations, or birth of normal calves that have antibody against BVDV. So the outcome of infection varies according to the stage of pregnancy when infection occurs:

Up to 90 days of pregnancy
At this stage infected cows give birth to a calf with permanent infection of the disease and whose immune system does not recognize the virus as a foreign organism ("anti body negative calves"). Fifty percent of these calves develop clinical disease and die within the first two years of age from superinfection with a cytopathogenic strain of BVDV or by a mutation of the virus population within the animal itself. Calves appear to be stunted, and prone to respiratory and enteric ailments. In the infected mother foetal death and irregular returns to service occur.

90 to 180 days of pregnancy
Infection at this stage causes abortion or the birth of a congenitally deformed calf with perhaps eye and brain abnormalities or a persistently infected calf possibly with some antibody.

After 180 days of pregnancy
At this stage, the immune system of the foetus is fully developed and the immune system of the foetus detects and clears itself of infection. At birth such calves are normal and have antibodies against the disease. But abortion may still occur in the mother.
Whatever the stage of pregnancy the cow herself will often be only mildly affected - she may have a raised temperature and scour for a few days but only occasionally develops a severe illness. It is the persistently infected calf which causes problems.

Signs of Mucosal disease
BVDV is immunosupressive and as as result an infected animal is much more susceptible to other infections such as those affecting the gut or lungs
The virus attacks all the mucosal surfaces in the body causing inflammation and ulceration and it is the results of this which cause the symptoms seen. Erosions can occur throughout the intestinal tract, lesions are seen in the mouth, nose and muzzle, there is often foul smelling diarrhoea containing shreds of intestine, mucus and blood. Occasionally diarrhoea may be so severe as to appear like water or paralysis of the gut may occur with no sign of faecal material. Other signs which may occur include discharges from the nose, excessive tears and lameness due to eruptive lesions of the interdigital cleft and coronary band. .Animals are reluctant to eat and there is drooling and even frothing from the mouth. High mortality with moderate morbidity is to be expected. In Mucosal Disease, where a persistently infected animal, usually under 2 years of age, is superinfected with internally acquired cytopathogenic virus, the mortality is very high, death occurring within a few days of onset, with fever, dysenteric diarrhoea, lack of appetite, dehydration, ulceration throughout the gastro-intestinal tract and erosive lesions in the mouth and nose.
Diagnosis is based on the disease history, clinical signs, gross and microscopic lesions, virus isolation from tissues such as spleen, thyroid and salivary gland and examination of paired serum samples when a more than four- fold increase in antibody titre indicates recent infection. Difficulties may occur when the presenting animal has no specific neutralising antibody due to immunesuppression or the inability to secrete antibody. So the whole picture must be considered.

The birth of congenitally abnormal calves, unexplained abortions, the appearance of stunted ill-thriven calves in the herd and cases of severe diarrhoea in young animals under the age of two years followed by their death must arouse a suspicion of BVD/ Mucosal Disease Complex. There will be a low incidence (5%) of acute clinical disease but a high case mortality. For diagnosis serum samples have to be sent to a laboratory outside of Kenya.

Prevention - Control - Treatment
Treatment is limited to supportive therapy such as providing antibiotic cover to prevent secondary bacterial infections, appetite stimulants, vitamins and alimentary tract astringents, such as kaolin, charcoal etc.
Post-natally acquired BVD virus infections are trivial. Control measures therefore are directed to limiting the risk of transplacental infection. Persistently infected animals should be identified and removed and isolated from the breeding herd. Only virus-negative and antibody-positive animals should be retained in the herd. Live and killed vaccines have been developed. The former has several disadvantages such as the risk of transplacental infection, they are immunosuppressive and epidemics of the mucosal disease syndrome have been recorded after their use. Killed vaccines are safe, but booster doses are necessary to achieve a good level of protected immunity.
Because the disease mainly affects cattle under 2 years and since colostral immunity from BVD positive cows wanes by 6 months of age the vaccination of young stock between 6 months and 2 years of age is a logical approach - but the manufacturer's instructions should always be followed. Vaccine is obtainable from the UK and the US.
A cow with mastitis undergoing treatment
Congenital means of or relating to a condition that is present at birth, as a result of either heredity or environmental influences
is a place where a great stock of anything is accumulated
is a selection of animals to reproduce and/or to further develop desired characteristics in succeeding generations.
Is also called foremilk because mammals produce this milk few days after birth. Compared to mature milk colostrum is rich in antibodies and minerals.
young, green
Are white blood cells, which are part of the immune system. Their function is to defend the body against infections.
To reduce, by physical or chemical means, the number of potentially harmful microorganisms in the environment, to a level that does not compromise food safety and suitability.
means beginning abruptly with marked intensity or sharpness, then subsiding after a relatively short period.
Of or relating to the stomach and intestines
present in the adult - continuing to grow or develop after the normal period of growth
Subcutaneous injection (S/C = under the skin)