Clostridial Disease in Cattle

Bacteria known as Clostridia commonly affect cattle. Clostridial infections of cattle result in very sudden death so prevention through vaccination is very important.

There are several disease syndromes caused by Clostridia bacteria:

  • Blackleg: This is a fatal disease of cattle caused by infection of the muscles. It can occur after wound contamination, grazing muddy winter feed crops, after calving, using dirty vaccination needles or ear markers.
  • Malignant oedema: The disease process is very similar to blackleg.
  • Black disease: Caused by infection of the liver by Clostridium novyii and can be associated with liver fluke infection.
  • Sudden death: Sudden death in good healthy fast growing cattle is thought to involve Clostridium sordellii.
  • Tetanus: Tetanus is seen when Clostridium tetani spores enter deep wounds and dead and damaged tissue. Tetanus is most commonly seen after castration.
  • Red Water Disease: This is a rare condition affecting older cattle.

Signs and Symptoms.

Affected cattle are usually found dead with little sign of struggling prior to death. There may be gas under the skin and the animal will usually be bloated. There is usually a blood-stained discharge from the nose or mouth. Postmortem decomposition is very rapid (even in cold weather).

Tetanus usually appears 10-14 days after the injury. Affected animals appear to be stiff and go into a rigid spasm if stimulated. They look as if they are smiling due to contraction of the facial muscles. Dead animals look normal.

The Impact.

The common Clostridial bacteria are almost endemic throughout NZ farms, however, the diseases are now relatively uncommon due to the widespread use of vaccination.

Clostridial diseases in cattle almost always result in death and, although they may not involve a significant number of animals, the value of the cattle lost is significantly higher than the cost of the vaccine.

For example, the cost to fully protect a $400 weaner steer (2 x 4 ml doses of 5-in-1 vaccine) is approximately 48 cents or 2 x 2ml doses of Covexin 10 vaccine is around $3.00 (excl.GST).

Management and Control

Infected animals invariably die soon after infection so prevention is the only choice.

Prevention is by vaccination. There are a wide range of vaccines available to suit various cattle management programs.