NDSU Extension - Mercer County


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Coccidiosis Affecting Young Calves


Submitted by Craig Askim, Extension Agent, Agriculture and Natural Resources      

Calving season weather conditions were about as perfect as could be this spring for producers in Mercer County. However; coccidiosis is starting to show up across the state. I haven’t had any confirmed reports of this disease in Mercer County as of yet, but producers need to keep a watchful eye on their calves because early identification is key to stopping the disease from spreading.

Cattle producers in North Dakota have been losing young calves to coccidiosis this spring, according to Gerald Stokka, the North Dakota State University Extension Service's veterinarian.

Coccidiosis is an intestinal disease that affects several animal species. In cattle, it may produce clinical symptoms in animals from 1 month to 1 year of age, but it can infect all age groups.

Coccidia is a protozoan parasite that has the ability to multiply rapidly and cause clinical disease.

"Coccidia are very host-specific; that is, only cattle coccidia will cause disease in cattle," Stokka says.

The major damage to calves is the result of the rapid multiplication of the parasite in the intestinal wall and the subsequent rupture of the cells of the intestinal lining.

Several stages of multiplication occur before the final stage, the oocyst (egg), is passed in the feces. Oocysts are extremely resistant to environmental stress and are difficult to remove from the environment completely. Oocysts must undergo a final process called sporulation before they are infective again. Oocysts frequently contaminate feed and water when other animals ingest the sporulated oocysts; they start their life cycle over in the new host.

Symptoms in young (3 to 6 weeks of age), suckling calves, clinical signs of coccidiosis may develop following stressful events such as weather changes, or if the calves are in unsanitary conditions.

In general, coccidiosis affects the intestinal tract and creates symptoms associated with it. In mild cases, calves only have watery diarrhea, but in most cases, blood is present in the feces. Straining, along with rapid dehydration, weight loss and anorexia (off feed), may be evident.

Animals that survive for 10 to 14 days may recover; however, permanent damage may occur. The lesions associated with coccidiosis that are found after death generally are confined to the cecum, colon, ileum and rectum.

Laboratory findings should be correlated with clinical signs for a diagnosis because other infectious diseases such as salmonella and bovine viral diarrhea virus also may lead to blood in the stool, Stokka notes.

The susceptibility of animals to coccidiosis varies. The life cycle of coccidiosis in calves is approximately 21 days. This means that if a 3-week-old calf is showing signs and symptoms of coccidiosis, the calf was exposed to the oocysts at birth. The logical conclusion to young calf coccidiosis is that calving grounds are highly contaminated. Stokka stated.

Treat infected animals by treating to correct dehydration. Producers should select the proper drugs in consultation with their veterinarian. Sulfa drugs and a therapeutic dose of amprolium are available to treat coccidiosis. Antibiotics may be necessary if secondary bacterial infections are suspected, Products also are available for treating the entire group of calves, but the logistics of medicating all the calves in beef herds is difficult, Stokka says.

Treatment and prevention are most effective when started early.

Prevention can occur by move calving grounds to a clean area free of contamination, increase the amount of space per cow during the calving season and adding a feed additive that can reduce the presence of coccidia.

"Feeding a coccidiostat (decoquinate) or an ionophore (monensin or lasalocid) to the herd prior to and during calving may help also. Producers need to follow label claims of any commercial products that will be used for prevention measures.

Source: Gerry Stokka, 701-231-5082, gerald.stokka@ndsu.edu

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