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Tips on managing clostridial disease in cattle

Animal Health: Proper timing of proper vaccines can prevent a costly wreck

It’s unfortunate but not uncommon for older “banded” calves to succumb to tetanus.

There’s a great need for routine vaccinations to prevent the multiple ways cattle can get clostridial diseases such as scours, blackleg and tetanus. They’re relatively cheap and cost-effective. Here are some tips and comments.

  • Vaccines offer good protection as long as one recognizes the need to booster-vaccinate. A single vaccination with most clostridial vaccines does not provide adequate anti-toxin titres. A second boost is required. The protection approaches 100 per cent.
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  • Clostridium hemolyticum immunity only lasts six months but is much longer for the other diseases so is the limiting bacteria in clostridial vaccines.
  • Clostridium hemolyticum (red-water) is seen with much greater frequency in on the eastern slopes of the Alberta Rockies and in areas of Manitoba where an increased incidence of liver flukes predisposes redwater disease. Red urine means 50 per cent of blood cells have been destroyed and the animal is very anemic.
  • Some producers now vaccinate just going onto pasture to ensure immunity to Clostridium hemolyticum will last over the grazing season
  • A tetanus outbreak often occurs after large calves have been banding-castrated. To be fully protected, calves must have a priming shot three to four weeks before banding. Tetanus vaccine is available in some eight-way vaccines, Tasvax and Covexin plus. The booster shot is given at banding. I have seen several outbreaks if vaccination of calves is delayed until right at castrating. Calves die three to four weeks because the scrotum is sloughing off.
  • Producers need to use have proper handling procedures with clostridial vaccines, keeping medication refrigerated. Don’t use partially used containers or expired product. Agitate the bacterin container before using it. Try and use clostridial vaccines that have a low two-cc dosage.
  • Always have epinephrine available when processing, in case of allergic reactions.
  • Cattle housed indoors are not protected from clostridial disease. Baled hay can have soil in it and any disturbed ground has the potential to expose cattle to clostridial spores.
  • I have seen expensive bulls die of clostridial disease so boostering them at semen-evaluation time is a good idea. Bulls often are neglected in our vaccination protocols.
  • Clostridial perfringens organisms are one of the bacteria groups we see in neonatal scours. All of the scours vaccines have protection for perfringens D. One has coverage for Types C & D. With Type C & D protection you get cross coverage for Type B. We are protecting for the toxins these organisms produce.
  • Clostridium perfringens Type A (hemorrhagic bowel syndrome or HBS — jejunal hemorrhagic disorder) provides no cross protection from Types B, C or D. There is no Clos perf A in any vaccines in Canada.
  • Novyi Type B (Black disease) can be a concurrent infection with fasciola (liver flukes). Use a vaccine to control flukes in the area and the same with hemolyticum.
  • Clostridial organisms can vary across the country so keep in mind where your cattle are pasturing. For example, if vaccinating with a clostridial vaccine absent of Clos hemolyticum, you could be asking for trouble if those cattle are then pastured on the eastern slopes of the Rockies.
  • It is imperative to do post-mortems on all sudden deaths in all species of production animals to help either rule in or out clostridial disease, anthrax or pneumonia toxins. Knowing what you are dealing with will help determine the course of treatment for the herd.
  • Similar to anthrax, clostridial spores can survive for many decades. Veterinarians should be more proactive in quick removal and disposal of infected animals or carcasses. If we don’t, contamination becomes worse and in severe cases can overwhelm vaccination protection.
  • All prostaglandins come with a warning that injections may be prone to set up clostridial disease. Any beef or dairy cows on any synchronization program are susceptible if not vaccinated. Keep both beef and dairy cattle up to date on their yearly vaccinations.
  • Let’s all try to ensure all animals are vaccinated against the appropriate clostridial diseases, including scour vaccinations for the enteric Clostridium perfringens organisms. Properly timed clostridial vaccines are cost-effective and provide broad coverage. Your veterinarian is the best one to know the proper vaccination protocols for your area.

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



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