Animal Science Department


Date of this Version

December 1991


Published for Proceedings, The Range Beef Cow Symposium XII December 3, 4 & 5, 1991, Fort Collins, Colorado.


Death loss in the calf crop is associated with the cost of the calf, labor, lost cow production, and stress on the ranch or farm management. One should be aware that the cause of death in most diarrheic calves is metabolic acidosis and/or dehydration (1). Many calves will survive the common pathogens causing diarrhea when proper supportive therapy is provided. The diarrheic calf can be treated without knowledge of the specific etiological agent, however, a definitive diagnosis can assist in the development of helpful prevention and management practices (2). Identifying the causative agent can be helpful in selection of the proper therapeutic products.

Table 1 lists the diagnostic findings from neonatal calf diarrhea accessions to the South Dakota Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory (3). Cryptosporidia and coccidia are single celled protozoal parasites commonly found in cattle populations. Cryptosporidia has commonly been associated with infection of 2- to 4-week-old calves. Coccidia is commonly associated with calves older than 6 weeks of age. Unlike coccidia, there are no known preventative, control, or treatment products for cryptosporidiosis.

Rota, corona, and bovine virus diarrhea (BVD) are the most commonly isolated viruses from neonatal calves. Usually these viruses are isolated from calves 10-days-old or older. Coronavirus is more frequently isolated from older calves than rotavirus. BVD virus is commonly isolated from diarrheic calves under 2 months of age. Antiviral drugs are not available for the treatment, control, or prevention of viral infections in cattle. Maternal immunity is the most commonly used preventative practice.

E. coli Salmonella, and clostridial bacteria are the most commonly found bacterial pathogens in the diarrheic calf. Pharmaceutical products can be helpful in the treatment, control, and prevention of these infections. Maternal immunity is successfully used to control herd problems with E. coli and clostridial infections.

Before one considers treatment of the diarrheic calf, it is helpful to become aware of some physiological facts related to the young calf. White blood cells, which are used by the body to fight infection, are decreased in the newborn calf for the first 48 hrs (4). After 5 days, they are similar to the adult cow. When calves are stressed at birth, glucocorticoids are released and WBC are suppressed even more.