Don’t Let Pinkeye Ruin Pasture Cattle Profits

Pinkeye ( File Photo )

This article was written by Tim Parks, DVM, technical services manager, Merck Animal Health

Infectious Bovine Keratoconjunctivitis (IBK) – commonly called pinkeye – is a highly contagious and costly disease that negatively impacts cattle production, causing estimated losses of more than $150 million annually in the U.S.1 The painful infection can severely impact feed intake and ultimately calf weaning weight. It also can be labor intensive to treat the disease, especially when cattle are not near working facilities. What’s more, calves with visible pinkeye infection often are docked at the sale barn.

To keep pinkeye at bay, the most effective and economical practice is to try and prevent it before it starts. Key considerations for a pinkeye prevention program should include:

A)    Administering pinkeye vaccines for Moraxella bovis and Moraxella bovoculi at branding and/or weaning. M. bovis, has long been identified as the bacteria causing pinkeye. M. bovoculi has been frequently isolated in pinkeye cases, including in cases of winter pinkeye. To complicate prevention, both M. bovoculi and M. bovis often are found together2, so for maximum protection, the vaccinations program should provide broad-spectrum protection against both types of bacteria.

There have been licensed vaccines for M. bovis. However, until recently, there were no licensed vaccines for M. bovoculi, so the only means of vaccinating were by working with a veterinarian to have an autogenous (herd-specific) vaccine made by a laboratory licensed for such work. Now, there is a conditionally licensed M. bovoculi vaccine that is commercially available.

B)     Maximizing herd health through a comprehensive vaccination, optimum nutrition and parasite management programs. Veterinarians can play an important role in helping design a herd health program based on the pathogens and disease challenges that have the most significant impact in an area. Typically, the biggest disease concerns for calves are Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR), Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD), Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus (BRSV), and pneumonia caused by Mannheimia haemolytica or Pasteurella multocida.

Prior to turnout, cattle should be effectively dewormed to help eliminate parasites and keep animals performing their best. Good nutrition, including trace minerals, supporting immune function also are important.

C)    Reducing risk factors that can result in damage to the corneal surface. Good face fly control is critical as flies are attracted to damaged and watery eyes, and also spread the pinkeye bacteria from animal to animal. In areas with heavy fly pressure, fly tags in cows and calves also can provide significant protection from corneal damage due to flies.3 Providing an irritant-free environment, such as mowing tall grass with seed heads and providing shade against ultraviolet light, can have a positive impact.

D)    Regularly inspecting cattle during fly season for pinkeye. Cattle with eye drainage, tearing or blinking should be examined closely. Because pinkeye is extremely contagious, removing and treating infected animals quickly is important to managing the disease.

To learn more about Merck Animal Health vaccines for pinkeye, contact your Merck Animal Health representative or visit   

1. Troutt & Schurig, Pinkeye, Animal Nutrition and Health, February 1985:38-41.
2. Loy JD, Brodersen BW (2014) Moraxella spp. isolated from field outbreaks of infectious bovine keratoconjunctivitis: a retrospective study of case submissions from 2010 to 2013. J Vet Diagn Invest 26:761–768.
3. Derouen, S. M., Foil, L. D., Knox, J. W. and Turpin, J. M. Horn fly (diptera: muscidae) control and weight gains of yearling beef cattle. Journal of Economic Entomology. Vol. 88, Issue 3; pp. 666-668.