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Livestock shows: Commingling serves as recipe for infection, disease

Prepare to face off with swine flu, chronic bloat and other common illnesses
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Jan 01, 2006

Show season kicks off in a couple months with the promise that livestock will be hauled to county and state fairs across the country. Combine inexperienced showmen with the commingling of hundreds of animals, and problems are almost destined to materialize. The following discussion highlights a variety of conditions common in livestock exhibited at shows that food animal veterinarians often are called upon to diagnose and treat.

Digestive problems in cattle


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Chronic bloat is one of the most common conditions occurring in show cattle. Widespread feeding regimes of show animals include large amounts of high carbohydrate feeds with limited roughage that can cause rumenitis and lead to secondary chronic bloat problems. It is usually mild and if caught early enough, the condition is not usually life threatening.

A slight correction of the diet by adding hay and possibly ionophores often will decrease chronic bloat problems. However, a temporary rumenostomy sometimes is needed. A temporary rumenostomy acts as a one-way valve, allowing gas to escape during bloat episodes. Once the rumen heals and bloating stops, the rumenostomy site closes on its own. If performed long enough prior to show season, the animal can still be exhibited later.

Indigestion and grain overload also crops up as a common medical issue. The rush to add size and condition to show animals tempts many exhibitors to overfeed or not allow proper time for diet adaptation. This can lead to mild cases of indigestion or severe cases of grain overload. Veterinarians can help prevent this by providing exhibitors with information of proper feeding of livestock and by working with feed suppliers to develop rations suitable for show animals.

Laminitis, physitis and joint distension

Along with these digestive problems that stem from improper feeding, laminitis and physitis also can occur. Laminitis usually is chronic and can lead to hoof overgrowth, white-line disease, hoof abscesses and hoof cracks.

Routine hoof care and trimming are needed to prevent lameness in these cases. Acute laminitis is less common in cattle than horses, but does occur and should be treated promptly.

Physitis, common in the distal cannon bones, and joint distension, common in the hocks, can cause lameness but usually are a cosmetic problem. Draining fluid from distended hocks usually alleviates the problem only temporarily and risks causing septic arthritis, so the procedure should be avoided. Exercise and joint wraps sometimes help with hock distension.

Vaccinate against respiratory disease

Transport and commingling of livestock can lead to outbreaks of respiratory disease. Animals traveling to shows should be adequately vaccinated for respiratory disease pathogens. Vaccinating show animals with killed products every six months after an initial booster is common although some experts advise vaccinating every three months.

Show animals can bring contagious pathogens back to the home farm, so veterinarians should recommend proper post-show quarantines to exhibitors. The risk of showing pregnant heifers, which if exposed to bovine viral diarrhea virus can later give birth to a persistently infected calf, also should be discussed.

Watch for lay treatments

Many exhibitors will care for sick animals themselves, and these treatments sometimes can be harmful.

Balling gun and dose syringe injuries causing pharyngitis and pharyngeal abscesses are not uncommon. A less common, but potentially deadly, mistake is to withhold water from animals and then let them drink large amounts to increase fill. At best, this causes diarrhea.

At worst, salt toxicity or hemolytic anemia occurs. Practitioners also should have nose rings on hand because many shows require these for bulls.

Copper toxicosis in sheep

Sheep are highly susceptible to copper toxicosis and should only be fed diets and salt or mineral mixes formulated especially for them. Stress usually induces the acute manifestations of a chronic accumulation of copper, so the show environment can bring on this disease.

The signs are depression, high fever, port-wined colored urine and icterus. Treatment mainly consists of fluid support, but the disease is usually fatal despite treatment.

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