Treating enteric (intestinal) diseases

Stocker cattle often develop diarrhea, and knowing how to evaluate their stools is key to treating the problem, according University of Arkansas extension veterinarian Jeremy Powell and extension beef cattle specialist Tom Trotter.

"Enteric problems in stocker cattle is usually evidenced by a change in the character of the stools, from slightly loose to watery. There are many reasons why an animal will develop diarrhea. It is important to characterize the consistency and the color of the feces when deciding how to treat the problem.

"Infection with coccidia is a common cause of bloody diarrhea. These animals will have watery, bloody diarrhea. It is important to note that almost all stocker cattle will have some level of coccidia infection but may not be showing any signs of the disease. The stress of shipping, dietary changes, processing and mingling with new animals may be enough to bring on clinical coccidiosis (bloody diarrhea). A coccidiostat should be incorporated into the receiving ration. It may be necessary to treat individual animals that are showing severe signs. Sulfa drugs (oral drench or injectable) are effective for treating coccidiosis. Consult with your veterinarian for recommendations.

"Heavy roundworm infestation may also result in diarrhea. The diarrhea can be slightly loose to watery and is usually normal color. This condition is handled easily during processing by using an effective deworming agent. It may be necessary, however, to repeat the treatment depending on the directions of the dewormer.

"Abrupt changes in feed such as introducing too much grain too quickly or putting cattle out on lush pasture may cause loose stools. The stools can be very loose and normal in color. Diarrhea from lush grass is usually loose and very green. It is important to gradually introduce cattle to concentrates and supplements. There also can be problems with bloat. If bloat occurs, reduce the level of feed and offer hay. Gradually increase the concentrates after the diarrhea has stopped.

"Cattle can also have diarrhea with a Salmonella infection. The diarrhea is usually a yellow to tan color and smells very bad. There may be bits of mucus and blood in the stool. These animals are usually depressed and may or may not have a fever. The only way to confidently diagnose Salmonella is through a bacterial culture. A test to determine antibiotic sensitivity should also be run to determine which antibiotic to use. This is not very common in stocker cattle, but can occur and should be dealt with carefully, as certain strains of Salmonella can cause problems in humans.

"Calves with diarrhea should have access to clean water. Animals lose a lot of water with diarrhea, and electrolyte imbalances develop. It may be necessary to supplement with electrolytes in severe cases. Therefore, much of the illness and depression is due to loss of electrolytes and not the offending organism."


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