Diarrhoea in Calves


Diarrhoea is the most common health and welfare issue in young calves.  We can help our farmers run their operations in a way that reduces the risk of diarrhoea and provide a 24/7 on-call service for when disaster strikes.


Crucial to every good diarrhoea control program is ensuring that calves get enough quality colostrum milk within six hours of being born. This allows the good antibodies in the colostrum to go across the gut and into the calf’s bloodstream. There are simple test kits available that can check if the colostrum is good enough to be fed to newborn calves. Calves can also be blood tested to see if they have an acceptable level of general immunity.  Around here in Canterbury, the biggest risks for severe diarrhoea are Rotavirus and Salmonella.  Fortunately, we can vaccinate cows in late pregnancy for both diseases so that they produce specific antibodies in the colostrum that the calves get.  Having a solid biosecurity policy in place that reduces the spread of infection between calf groups can further reduce the risk of a disease outbreak.  


There are many possible reasons why calves develop diarrhoea.  To figure out the cause of diarrhoea in a new outbreak, veterinarians examine the calves, take samples, and ask a lot of questions.  For finding out if Rotavirus is involved there are rapid faecal tests available that can give an answer within 15 minutes. There is usually more than just one factor involved, and every farm is set up slightly different.  It is important to remember that calf diarrhoea can take a big emotional, mental, and physical toll on the people caring for the calves.  People can also get sick themselves with Salmonella, Rotavirus, etc.  Therefore, veterinarians tailor their treatment plans and recommendations to suit each outbreak.  


For most of the infectious causes of diarrhoea, there are specific treatments available.  For Salmonella, the faeces can be tested to see which antibiotic is most likely to work.  These treatments can help sick calves to recover, reduce the number of bugs they shed and prevent healthy calves from getting sick.  Calves with diarrhoea can suffer from dehydration, electrolyte imbalances and severe gut pain.  These symptoms can be managed with electrolyte feeds in between milk feeds and vet-prescribed anti-inflammatory pain relief medication.  In severe cases, veterinarians can also give calves intravenous (IV) fluids with extra electrolytes and energy.

If you would like to find out more about managing calf diarrhoea risks on your farm, please get in touch with us.

Selwyn-Rakaia Vet Services Ltd

Selwyn Rakaia Veterinary Services Ltd is a locally owned veterinary business servicing predominantly dairy farms in Canterbury. Our team of staff include veterinarians, rural animal technicians, vet nurses and administration staff.