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Calf pneumonia video 4

After scour, pneumonia is the big killer of young calves on farms. It is not just calves that can be affected by pneumonia but weanlings and even adult animals. The big problem with pneumonia is the performance loss associated with the disease.

We must remember that once they are damaged the lungs will have a very poor capacity to heal and regenerate that tissue. Meaning the animal subsequently will have poorer oxygen capacity affecting thrive, growth and potential performance.

There will be no surprises to hear that I think we must always focus on prevention. Pneumonia contributes to increased antibiotic use on-farm, so good pneumonia controls mean less spend on and reduce the usage of antibiotics.

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia in simple terms is inflammation (+/- infection) of the soft tissue of the lungs. This is in the airways and alveolar soft tissue that works its magic by taking oxygen from air and into the blood.

Cattle and ruminants seem particularly more at risk of pneumonia because of their smaller lung capacity in relation to overall body mass

What causes pneumonia?

We must first always remember with any disease what I call the seesaw principle. This is where we are always balancing between immunity and infection pressure ( the pathogens). Anything that decreases immunity or leads to more bugs in the environment will increase the risk of pneumonia



Bacteria, virus, and parasites can cause pneumonia.

The common ones are

  • Viruses IBR RSV PI3
  • Bacteria mycoplasma mannhaemia histophillus
  • Parasites lungworm

Many of the bacteria particularly (mannhaemia) can be normal commensals of the respiratory tract. What this means is these bacteria can be in the tonsils for example in healthy animals? It is stress or something that affects immunity that allows them to multiply and spread deeper into the lungs.

What are the symptoms?         

Pneumonia causes inflammation, so some of the first symptoms are associated with this rise in temperature as the calves’ body and the immune system goes to fight the infection.

Increased breathing rate is also seen in some cases as lung tissue is inflamed and the animal has to work harder to get oxygen into the bloodstream. There may be discharges particularly from the nostrils (the gateway to the lungs). These can be yellow or green purulent discharges or clear.

Calves will have a reduced appetite and may have dropped ears.

A thermometer is a vital tool on farm with pneumonia-causing temperatures of over 39.5 degrees in calves.

Nasal discharges and coughing can be some of the symptoms of pneumonia


Make a diagnosis to make a difference. We can find out what pathogens we are dealing with using nasal swabs in young calves. In older animals blood testing can be used also. One very important point I always make is never let fallen animals go without having a post mortem done. There can be very valuable samples to be taken and a good look inside just to rule in or out pneumonia.

Knowing the pathogens helps us decide around more targeted vaccination potentially.


Watch the above VIDEO where I talk about different treatment options. We need to use anti-inflammatory medications more and talk to your own vet about specific treatments for your farm.

  • We cannot afford to be relying on antibiotics as our pneumonia control strategy on farm
  • We need to review treatments and assess are they working (no-repeat episodes)
  • We need to give treatments as directed by your vet, length of treatments can be very important with bacterial pneumonias
  • Aim to reduce antibiotic usage always through better preventative strategies



Pneumonia is multifactorial, meaning there can be several factors often we need to tweak before we get the desired outcomes.

  1. Indoors maximize fresh air and space per calf. Get drainage right and reduce moisture and humidity in the environment.
  2. Focus on the pillars of good calf health like colostrum (no.1) and feeding
  3. Minimize stress where at all possible. A big one can be transport where calves are being bought in. For more information on dairy to beef, systems watch here      https://youtu.be/9QW5xi4l1JA
  4. Vaccination is a key pillar in pneumonia control in young calves. With the option to use intranasal vaccines in young calves and follow up with more comprehensive dead vaccine programs when this immunity wanes.

Pneumonia costs a lot of money on farms. While we often factor in the medicines or animals that die it is the production losses from poor thrive and performance that is key.

I have no doubt over the next decade or more there will be a huge focus on #onehealth. A big part of this is farming animals which are healthy and reducing the need for antibiotics or certainly dramatically reducing their usage.

A good plan and step by step approach to pneumonia control really works.

Thought for the day

With so much misinformation out there around coronavirus. Limit what you read and always go to trusted sources for your information. Listen to the experts and lets all keep doing our bit to stop the spread.


If people feel I can help them in any way my email is info@tommythevet.ie

Big thanks to Nettex for their support in helping me make #50in50 happen http://www.net-tex.co.uk


Happy safe farming

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