Calf Treatment & Care

The Fundamentals of Treating Sick Calves

Calf treatment

A calf treated with medicine

Proper treatment of a sick calf is important for a number of reasons. First, sick calves have slower growth and development since their energy is consumed by fighting off illness. Also, sick calves spread disease to other animals. Using the proper treatment gives you the best odds that a sick calf will recover quickly, gain weight normally, and no longer be a carrier of infectious virus and bacteria.

Treatment of Pain for Calf Health

One often over-looked aspect of caring for a sick calf is treating pain. For most animals, including calves, pain produces a response that is very similar to that of stress. One common symptom of pain or stress is the loss of appetite. Since proper nutrition is critical to a recovering calf, there is an incentive to treat pain in order for the animal to eat properly.

It is also recognized that stress impacts the immune system, reducing its effectiveness. If pain is causing a stress-like reaction the calf may take longer to recover since its immune system is not functioning at full capacity. Relieving pain or addressing the cause of pain in a calf can be a positive step in aiding recovery.

Identify the Proper Medication for Calf Treatment

It may seem like an obvious point, but using the right medication is essential in treating sick calves. Sometimes owners are tempted to treat common symptoms with medication they have on hand. It is important, however, to treat causes, not symptoms. Calf scours, for example, has a number of different causes, even though they all result in the common symptom of loose stools and diarrhea. It would be a wasted effort to treat a calf for parasites (a cause of scours in previous calves) if the cause of the current case of scours is nutrition related.

Use medication when you are sure of the root cause of the symptoms. Using the wrong medication could also worsen the condition or be dangerous to the calf.

Medication is used once a calf is sick. Vaccines, however, are aimed at preventing illness in the first place. Discuss with your veterinarian which vaccines make sense for your herd. In addition to vaccinations, providing clean living conditions with proper ventilation have been identified as important preventive measures.

Nutrition is Vital for a Sick Calf

Calves need energy to fight off illness, and maintaining proper energy requires that the calf receives proper nutrition. Take whatever action seems necessary to get the calf to eat. This could be as simple as frequently providing fresh food and water for the sick calf. Consider using nutritional supplements that provide essential vitamins and proteins needed by the sick calf to maintain strength and boost the immune system. Bottle feeding or tube feeding might be necessary if a sick calf will not eat, but generally do not force-feed a calf unless you are directed to do so by a veterinarian.

Dehydration is also a major concern with a sick calf and ultimately the most frequent cause of illness-related deaths. A basic, yet important step to treat and prevent dehydration is to make sure there is plenty of clean water readily available. Avoid making the calf wander or search for it.

To treat severely dehydrated calves that may be at risk (watch for sunken eyes and dry nose/mouth), an oral hydration solution can be mixed and provided by bottle or esophageal tube if the calf will not willingly drink. Some simple solutions add sodium or glucose. More nutritional solutions contain electrolytes such as potassium, chloride, and other minerals. This ensures the organs and muscles of the calf have the nutrients they need to recover health and immune system function.

You can make your own hydration solution or buy them premixed. For both, be sure to follow your vet’s guidelines since the type of re-hydration solution depends on the calf’s age, type of sickness, and degree of dehydration.

Properly Manage the Calf Treatment

Use a logical treatment plan for a sick calf, meaning that you set priorities and take action based on importance and needs of the calf and the herd. Sure, you want your calf to recover, but you also don’t want to risk the larger population. Once you have determined the cause, map out a treatment plan to execute.

Another aspect of managing treatment is documenting the illness, the treatment methods, and the results. This can be important information to assist a veterinarian, and it can be valuable for future reference. When you have a clear recorded history of what has worked and what hasn’t, care and treatment decisions become easier to make and more effective. Instead of having to re-learn lessons, you can build on your past experience. To learn more you can click here to find extra information about calf treatment and care.


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