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Respiratory Problems and Diseases in Cattle

High-value cattle are among the most valuable assets on a farm. Unfortunately, livestock mortality is a common reality in the cattle industry, and respiratory diseases are among the most common illnesses affecting ranches today. However, by knowing the signs and symptoms of illness and taking preventive measures, you can protect your animals against illness and your operation against the economic implications of mortality.


Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD)

BRD is an extremely costly disease and the most common cause of death among cattle in North America. Several illnesses fall under the BRD umbrella, including pneumonia, bronchial pneumonia, fibrinous pleuropneumonia and shipping fever. These pneumonias in cows, caused by a variety of infectious agents and environmental factors, lead to a complex range of pulmonary lesions.


During the colder months of the year, primarily September through February, your cattle are at a higher risk of BRD due to climatic conditions and increased time spent indoors with other cows. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) explains that calves are at higher risk of contracting BRD, especially after commingling with other animals during transportation.


According to BRD Solutions sponsored by the animal health company Zoetis, BRD manifests in numerous ways, depending on the age of the animal, causative organism(s) and stage of the disease, among other factors. Identifying sick cows is not an exact science. However, producers should watch for these early signs:

  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Lack of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Serious nasal and eye discharge (including bloody discharge)
  • Stiff gait
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Soft coughing

Management and proactive measures for BRD include regular checks to identify fevers, a complete blood count and necropsies. These preventive actions should be taken throughout the year, but especially during colder months.


Chronic Suppurative Pulmonary Disease (CSPD)

CSPD develops as a result of unsuccessful treatment or incomplete recovery from earlier pneumonia episodes in calves and growing cattle. According to the National Animal Disease Information Service, CSPD can be difficult to identify and diagnose, as the symptoms can be similar to common bacterial infections. Be on the lookout for the following signs and symptoms of CSPD, and consult a veterinarian for an official diagnosis before beginning treatment:


  • Poor lactation yield
  • Weight loss
  • Poor fertility performance
  • Dry coat
  • Variable rectal temperature
  • Cough and nasal discharge
  • Arched back when standing


During these winter months, it is important to be alert for signs of illness in your herd. Conducting routine checks of young cattle, vaccination and prompt treatment of illness in growing cattle are a few ways to protect the future of your operation and the overall value of your livestock.


However, sometimes an outbreak can catch even the most prepared operation off-guard. Add an extra layer of protection to your bottom line with James Allen Insurance’s American Live Stock Cattle Program.

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