Autumn-calving: Clinical signs of pneumonia in calves

Pneumonia and scour are the main illnesses that are experienced by young calves, with pneumonia being the most common cause of death in calves between one and six months of age.

Pneumonia multi-factorial disease is caused by a range of bacteria, viruses and mycoplasmas.

The autumn-calving season is well underway in autumn-calving herds, and keeping calves healthy is a priority for farmers.

Pneumonia can cause damage to the lungs of a calf, which may impact that calf’s performance in later life.

Pneumonia in calves

Pneumonia can be caused by several factors, including the presence of bacteria and viruses, the environment and the immune status of the animal.

Environmental factors that can cause pneumonia include low environmental temperatures, high humidity, poor ventilation and direct draughts.

It can also be caused due to increased stress placed on the calf such as mixing groups, movement and poor housing conditions which can also affect immune status.

One of the most important steps to prevent pneumonia in calves, is to ensure they receive adequate amounts of high quality colostrum. This helps the calf to fight off disease.

If pneumonia has been an issue in the past on your farm, you should discuss with your vet some control measures;these might include modifications to the calf shed or a vaccination programme.

Clinical signs

There are two types of pneumonia seen in calves, acute (calf or enzootic) and chronic.

Symptoms of acute pneumonia include:

  • Reduction in feeding;
  • Dull demeanour;
  • Dropping of the head;
  • Increased respiratory rate;
  • Nasal discharge;
  • Cough;
  • Raised temperature.

Both forms of pneumonia can cause production losses, as there is a reduction in liveweight gain. Acute pneumonia in severe causes can result in the death of a calf.

Once you have identified any of the symptoms you should monitor the calf closely, and to increase the chances of a successful treatment you should contact your vet early.