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Common Diseases

Just like us, livestock animals get sick

And just like us they deserve the right care and treatment to get better. Many farmers
and veternaries feel a deep responsiblity to protect the well being of the animals in their care.

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Mastitis is the inflammation of the mammary gland and udder tissue. It usually occurs as an immune response to bacterial invasion of the teat canal by variety of bacterial sources present on the farm (commonly through bedding or contaminated teat dips), and can also occur as a result of chemical, mechanical, or thermal injury to the cows udder.
Mastitis is a multifactoral disease, closely related to the production system and environment that cows are kept in. Mastitis risk factors or disease determinants can be classified into three groups: host, pathogen and environmental determinants.

  • Sub clinical: Few symptoms of sub clinical mastitis appear, although it is present in most dairy herds.
  • Somatic cell counts measure milk quality and can be used as an indicator of mastitis prevalence.
  • Clinical mastitis: The most obvious symptoms of clinical mastitis in the udder are swelling, heat, hardness, redness or pain.
  • Milk takes on a watery appearance, flakes, clots or pus is often present.
  • A reduction in milk yields, increases in body temperature, lack of appetite, and a reduction in mobility due to the pain of a swollen udder are also common signs.

NSAID are widely used for the treatment of acute mastitis. Aspirin, flunixin meglumine, flurbiprofen, carprofen, ibuprofen, and ketoprofen have been studied as treatments for experimental coli form mastitis or endotoxin-induced mastitis. Orally administered aspirin should be used with caution in acute coli form mastitis because it may lead to severe rumen atony.

  • Hygienic teat management: which includes good housing management, effective teat preparation and disinfection for good milk hygiene, teat health and disease control.
  • Prompt identification and treatment of clinical mastitis cases: including the use of the most appropriate treatment for the symptoms.
  • Dry cow management and therapy: where cows are dried off abruptly and teats are cleaned scrupulously before dry cow antibiotics are administered, including the use of teat-end sealants if appropriate.
  • Culling chronically affected cows: cows that become impossible to cure and represent a reservoir of infection for the whole herd.
  • Regular testing and maintenance of the milking machine: with regular, recommended teat cup liner replacement and milking machine servicing and attention paid to items which must be checked on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
  • Good record keeping: of all aspects of mastitis treatment, dry cow therapy, milking machine servicing, Somatic Cell Counts and Bactoscan results, and clinical mastitis cases

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It is currently the number one disease that farmers should be concerned about. It can destroy our livestock sector if it,s not brought under control.

Affecting cattle, sheep and goats, the disease was nearly brought under control in the 1990s, but has since grown out of hand. Although it causes hundreds of millions of shillings worth of damage to the cattle industry, its underestimated or ignored by many cattle farmers, and businesses which trade in livestock.

Between 3% and 9% of heifers born from infected cows may be latently infected (that is, without obvious symptoms). Such heifers often test negative for the disease in serological tests until about 18 months, by which time they may be pregnant or with their first calf.

These heifers are a huge problem. If farmers, vets and auctioneers dont stand together in curbing this disease, we will never manage to bring it under control

The disease is spread mainly when farmers sell and move infected animals. The problem is that infected animals show no clinical signs of disease and their eating habits do not change. The only sign that a pregnant cow carrying the disease will show is abortion after five to seven months of pregnancy. However, such a symptom is also common to other diseases.

Bulls do not play a significant role in spreading brucellosis, therefore contracting the disease through them is not as great a threat. Brucellosis is a zoonosis, making it especially dangerous. Animals with brucellosis may be slaughtered, but special arrangements have to be made with an abattoir. The cow(s) udder, reproduction system and lymph nodes have to be cut away, as the germ persists in these areas.

Germs occur in milk and are also retained in the afterbirth. Animals may eat the afterbirth and contract brucellosis in this way. Humans can contract the disease by coming into contact with the afterbirth. Butchers who do not wear special protective clothing are at risk of becoming infected, should tiny drops of infected material get in their eyes or through microscopic cuts in the skin.

Animals must be vaccinated at the correct time against brucellosis, and a vet should be consulted in this regard.

When brucellosis occurs in a herd, infected animals must be quarantined and cannot be sold.

Although ultra-heat treatment (UHT) and pasteurisation kills the germ in milk.

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The disease is spread by the poxvirus and usually occurs during the dry seasons, especially when there are high insect populations. In addition, certain ticks can carry the disease.

Most infected animals show no visible clinical signs. The disease is spread through the saliva of infected animals and by infected animals rubbing against healthy animals, transferring it through skin lesions.

Infected animals will not eat. Small sores will develop on the inside of an animal(s) mouth, nose and sexual organs. If the disease is present in a herd, a large number of animals will suddenly abort. An outbreak usually affects 1% to 2% of a herd, but rarely more than 3% of infected animals will die.

Lumpy skin disease can be prevented and controlled effectively through annual vaccination, but animals vaccinated during the diseases incubation period still become infected.

Infected animals cannot be sold commercially.

Animals showing serious symptoms of lumpy skin disease must be culled and buried

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Redwater (Babesiosis)

Redwater (Babesiosis)
Redwater is a tick-borne disease listed with the World Organisation for Animal Health
It is often transferred between animals when farmers vaccinate multiple animals with the same needle.

However, calves must not be vaccinated before two months of age, because passive immunity  transferred from the cow may negatively influence the vaccine. Infection of the unborn calf can occur, resulting in abortion or death of the calf shortly after birth.
Cattle infected with redwater will have red or brown urine (blood in the urine) and a high temperature of between 41°C and 42°C. (The norm is 37°C to 38°C.) The mucosa of the eye is pale. Infected animals will not eat, are listless, and their skin may have an unsmooth appearance.
Muscle tremors occur and animals react strongly to handling and noise.

BB is predominantly observed in adult cattle. Infected animals develop a life-long immunity against re-infection with the same species and some cross-protection is evident in B. bigemina-immune animals against subsequent B. bovis infections.
B. bovis

Conditions are often more severe than other strains.
High fever
Parasitaemia (percentage of infected erythrocytes) - maximum parasitaemia is often less than one per cent.
Neurologic signs such as incoordination, teeth grinding and mania. Some cattle may be found on the ground with the involuntary movements of the legs. When the nervous symptoms of cerebral babesiosis develop, the outcome is almost always fatal.
  • Dark coloured urine
  • Anorexia
  • B. bigemina
  • Fever
  • Anorexia
  • Animals likely to separate from herd, be weak, depressed and reluctant to move
  • Haemoglobinuria and anaemiaDark coloured urine
  • Central nervous system (CNS) signs are uncommon
The survivors may be weak and in reduced condition, although they usually recover fully. Subacute infections, with less apparent clinical signs, are also seen.

Mild cases may recover without treatment. 
Sick animals can be treated with an antiparasitic drug. Treatment is most likely to be successful if the disease is diagnosed early; it may fail if the animal has been weakened by anemia. In some cases blood transfusions and other supportive therapy should be considered.

Effective control of tick fevers has been achieved by a combination of measures directed at both the disease and the tick vector. Tick control by acaracide dipping is widely used in endemic areas. 

Dipping may be done as frequently as every 4-6 weeks in heavily infested areas. The occurrence of resistance of ticks, chemical residues in cattle and environmental concerns over the continued use of insecticides has led to use of integrated strategies for tick control.

Babesiosis vaccines are readily available and are highly effective. Anti-tick vaccines are also available in some countries and can be used as part of an integrated program for the control of ticks.

Differential Diagnosis
Babesiosis resembles other conditions that cause fever, and hemolytic anemia. The differential diagnosis includes anaplasmosis, trypanosomiasis, theileriosis, bacillary hemoglobinuria, leptospirosis, eperythrozoonosis, rapeseed poisoning and chronic copper poisoning. Rabies and other encephalitides may also be considerations in cattle with central nervous system sign

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Anthrax, a highly infectious and fatal disease of mammals and humans, is caused by a relatively large spore-forming rectangular shaped bacterium called Bacillus anthracis.

Anthrax occurs on all the continents, causes acute mortality in ruminants and is a zoonosis. The bacteria produce extremely potent toxins which are responsible for the ill effects, causing a high mortality rate. While most mammals are susceptible, anthrax is typically a disease of ruminants and humans.

It does not typically spread from animal to animal nor from person to person. The bacteria produce spores on contact with oxygen.

Clinical Signs

Sudden death (often within 2 or 3 hours of being apparently normal) is by far the most common sign;

Very occasionally some animals may show trembling, a high temperature, difficulty breathing, collapse and convulsions before death. This usually occurs over a period of 24 hours;

After death blood may not clot, resulting in a small amount of bloody discharge from the nose, mouth and other openings/

On the clinical signs described above;

Rod-shaped bacteria surrounded by a capsule are visible in blood smears made from surface blood vessels

Post-mortem examinations should not be undertaken on suspected anthrax cases (including any cow that has died suddenly for no apparent reason) until a blood smear has proved negative);

If a carcass is opened accidentally, the spleen is usually swollen and there is bloodstained fluid in all body cavities.


Due to the rapidity of the disease treatment is seldom possible, although high doses of penicillin have been effective in the later stages of some outbreaks.


Infection is usually acquired through the ingestion of contaminated soil, fodder or compound feed. Anthrax spores in the soil are very resistant and can cause disease when ingested even years after an outbreak. The spores are brought to the surface by wet weather, or by deep tilling, and when ingested or inhaled by ruminants the disease reappears.

Where an outbreak has occurred, carcasses must be disposed of properly, the carcass should not be open (exposure to oxygen will allow the bacteria to form spores) and premises should be quarantined until all susceptible animals are vaccinated.

Vaccination in endemic areas is very important. Although vaccination will prevent outbreaks veterinary services sometimes fail to vaccinate when the disease has not appeared for several years. But because the spores survive for such lengthy periods, the risk is always present.

Anthrax is a disease listed in the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) Terrestrial Animal Health Code, 2011, (Article 1.2.3) and must be reported to the OIE (Chapter 1.1.2  Notification of Diseases and Epidemiological Information).

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TB (Bovine Tuberculosis)

TB (Bovine Tuberculosis)
Tuberculosis (TB) in cattle is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis. M. bovis is killed by sunlight, but is resistant to desiccation and can survive in a wide range of acids and alkalis. It is also able to remain viable for long periods in moist and warm soil. In cattle faeces, it will survive 1 to 8 weeks. Bovine tuberculosis is a zoonotic disease and causes tuberculosis in human. The disease can be transmitted in raw milk, but pasteurisation effectively prevents the spread via milk.

M. bovis has been found in several wild mammal species. High rates of infection have been found in badgers, and the consensus of scientific opinion is that badgers are a significant source of TB in cattle. The risk posed by badgers. M. bovis also infects people was in the past a major cause of death in humans

Animals are probably more likely to be infected by M. bovis when they are poorly nourished or under stress. Growing heifers and younger cows are most at risk. There is evidence that more intensive dairy farms also have a higher risk of infection.

M. bovis is spread in a number of ways by infectious animals - in their breath, milk, discharging lesions, saliva, urine or droppings. In cattle, excretion of M. bovis begins around 87 days after infection occurs. Entry is usually by inhalation (especially if housed) or ingestion (when badgers are the source of infection). Once in a herd, infection probably spreads from cow to cow by inhalation. Spread from cows to calves may occur via the milk or colostrum.

Various body systems can be affected, but signs are usually confined to the respiratory tract. A soft, chronic cough occurs once or twice at a time. In more advanced cases, there is a marked increase in the depth and rate of respiration as well as dyspnoea. Areas of dullness can be heard in the chest on auscultation or percussion. Some cases may squeak, whistle or have a snoring respiration.

  • Diagnosing bovine tuberculosis is complicated, and a diagnostic gold standard that can detect all infected animals is not currently available. Conventional diagnostic tools (i.e., detection of antibodies or antigens) can be used only in the late stages of the disease. Consequently, the most widely used first bovine tuberculosis diagnostics are based on the cell-mediated immune response, which is determined by either skin or blood testing
  • Differences exist among bovine tuberculosis tests with respect to the time point and the sensitivity for detection of the disease.
  • The choice of tests and their applications is dependent on both the risk of bovine tuberculosis infection in a region and the goal of a bovine tuberculosis program. Optimal TB programs enable sanitary decisions to be made sooner, increase the speed of a test and cull program and helps minimize the duration of farm closures.

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