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Scours in Livestock

three calves

Scours is very common in calves and can be potentially fatal. In fact, scours causes more financial loss to cattle producers than any other disease-related problem.

Scours is not a disease but rather the symptom of a disease, which can be caused by many factors. Scours is characterized by diarrhea, resulting in rapid dehydration. The loss of bodily fluids through diarrhea also creates the loss of certain electrolytes. The combination of dehydration and loss of electrolytes creates a change in body chemistry, potentially leading to death. Infection is often the primary cause of damage to the animal’s intestine however death from scours is most often due to loss of electrolytes, changes in body chemistry, dehydration, and change in acid-base balance.

The known causes of scours can be due to both noninfectious and infectious causes.

Noninfectious causes of scours include inadequate nutrition, exposure to severe environments, insufficient attention to a newborn calf, or a combination of these conditions. The most common noninfectious cause, however, is inadequate nutrition of the pregnant cow and an inadequate environment for the newborn calf. Deficiencies in vitamins A and E as well as trace minerals are often associated with higher rates of scours. As well, mud, overcrowding, contaminated lots and other inadequate conditions can lead to scours, as calves experience high levels of stress and are exposed to increased levels of infectious agents.

Infectious causes of scours include exposure to bacteria (Escherichia coli, Salmonella spp., Clostridium perfringens, etc.), viruses (coronavirus, rotavirus, BVD virus, IBR virus), protozoa (Cryptosporidium, coccidian) and yeasts and molds. The most likely cause of bacterial scours is E. coli. Newborn calves are often exposed to E. coli from the environment, especially when sanitation is inadequate.

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