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
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.
Fatty liver and pregnancy toxemia in goats
Meat goats, particularly the Boer breed, are gaining in popularity as show animals. These show animals are commonly over-conditioned, which can lead to fatty liver and possibly secondary cholangiohepatitis.
When the over-conditioned females become pregnant, the combination of large amounts of fat in the abdomen and twins or triplets in the uterus can lead to pregnancy toxemia.
Slow weight loss to more acceptable body conditions and proper gestational nutrition are important to prevent these problems.
Show pigs and viral diseases
The most common problems seen in show pigs are swine flu and transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE).
Most cases are mild and self-limiting, but they might require some supportive care. Isolation of sick pigs is important at the show and also once pigs return home.
Prudent drug use
It's important to know the drug testing procedures for the shows in the area so exhibitors can be counseled on proper drug use.
If an animal becomes sick and needs drug therapy, documentation is extremely important.
Food animal veterinarians should take the lead in teaching junior exhibitors proper drug use and handling as well as meat quality assurance guidelines.
Dr. Navarre works as an extension veterinarian with Louisiana State University's Department of Veterinary Science.