Neonatal scours are commonly caused by infections such as rotavirus and E.coli, or poor nutrition - a result of the quality and/or quantity of milk that is fed. Even nutritional diarrhoea can often progress to a secondary bacterial or viral infection if not treated promptly and effectively.
Calves that are scouring are losing body water, body salts and energy. Whether the cause of the scours is infectious or nutritional the treatment is the same - replace the lost fluids and assist with maintaining the energy of the calf. This is best done by giving oral electrolytes during the period of diarrhoea and recovery period. Oral electrolytes themselves are lower in energy than milk, so milk feeding during the scouring period should be continued as much as possible. Milk should not be withheld for more than 24 hours.
The essential components of an oral electrolyte are sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), chloride (Cl-) an alkalinising agent and an energy source. Electrolyte solutions that are not in the correct balance are less effective and could even make the symptoms worse.
A calf gets scours when it accidentally eats more scours-causing germs than its immune system can handle.
This happens if:
Its food/environment contains too many scours-causing germs (hygiene) AND/OR
Its immune system isn’t working as well as it could be (colostrum management).
Scours-causing germs can stay in the environment for a long time, and healthy animals can shed these germs in their faeces, so all calves will have some exposure. But, following hygiene best practices will reduce the chance of calves getting sick, and will minimise the spread of scours germs from sick to healthy calves.
Be careful about your own hygiene around calves, since people can get also get sick from many of the germs that cause scours.
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