Ask the Expert: Clostridium and its Prevention
Posted on November 8, 2012 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
Dr. Neil Michael comes to Starting Strong with nearly 30 years of experience as a veterinarian specializing in dairy. He currently works as the director of dairy initiatives for Vita Plus.
Q: “We have been experiencing more cases of bloat of sudden onset resulting in high mortality. Our vet says this is caused by clostridium. Can you please explain what could be causing the clostridium and what can we be doing to prevent it?”
A: Clostridial abomasitis and enteritis infection usually occurs in calves less than one month old with no prior health concerns. Clinically affected animals may consume their milk or milk replacer feeding normally. Several hours later, you may find the calf bloated, in pain, recumbent and/or dead due to an overgrowth of clostridial bacteria in the abomasum and small intestine. Clostridium perfringens type A, the cause of this infection, is a normal inhabitant of soil and calf environments and routinely cultured from the feces of healthy animals.
Contributing factors for clostridial abomasitis are periods of decreased intestinal flow, altered pH of abomasum contents, and increased concentrations of carbohydrate and protein resulting in a bacterial overgrowth of Clostridium perfringens type A and toxin production. Specific on farm situations include:
- Irregular time intervals between feeding
- Inferior quality milk replacer (mixing capability and inferior protein sources)
- Improper mixing and temperature of milk and milk replacers
- High osmolality (too concentrated) of milk replacer
- Overgrowth of milk or milk replacer with Clostridium perfringens prior to feeding due to improper handling
- Contaminated feeding equipment and utensils
- Lack of fresh drinking water available
Treatment of calves with enteric infections caused by Clostridium perfringens type A are aided by oral penicillin to prevent further overgrowth in the abomasum and intestine. Additionally, Clostridium perfringens C&D antitoxin given either orally or systemically may provide local protection at the gut level. Additional treatments including IV fluids and anti-inflammatory products may also improve survival of some animals if given soon enough in the disease process.
The most effective strategy for preventing clostridial abomasitis is consistency of on-farm practices, such as feeding time, mixing, temperature, hygiene and quality of the milk products delivered to young calves. A conditionally licensed vaccine targeting Clostridium perfringens type A alpha toxin is now available commercially and may provide improved protection compared to traditional clostridial multivalent (7-way) vaccines which do not offer protection against the alpha toxin in Clostridium perfringens type A infections.