Calf care checklist: Identifying dehydration

Posted on July 22, 2021 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Ann Hoskins, Vita Plus calf products manager
The earlier the better when it comes to catching dehydration in calves.  Identifying mild dehydration and fixing the problem in the early stages will save you a lot of headaches in the coming days.

Following are common signs of dehydration at different levels of severity.  Watch calves closely. Work with your veterinarian or calf and heifer specialist to design protocols to combat dehydration.

Signs of early dehydration

  • Lethargic or sluggish; slow to pop up at feeding time or as people approach
  • Slow drinking or weak suckle reflex: Calves with a slow suckle reflex will often try to drink, but are extremely slow. These calves will often have a hard time keeping their tongues in their mouths when trying to drink.
  • Dull or dry eyes
  • Mild diarrhea or scours
  • Reduced urine output
  • Skin will tent for less than 4 seconds

Signs of moderate dehydration

  • Severe depression; calves will not react upon approach
  • Weak, groggy and not as steady on their feet
  • No interest in drinking
  • Almost no suckle reflex
  • Further reduced urine output
  • Moderate diarrhea or scours
  • Eyes are starting to sink (separation between eyeball and outside orbit) and look dull
  • Skin will tent for 5 to 10 seconds

Signs of severe dehydration

  • Calves do not want to get up or respond to human contact
  • Eyes are sunken; visible gap between eye and outside orbit
  • Skin will tent for more than 10 seconds

Category: Animal handling
Animal health
Calf and heifer nutrition
Heat stress
Starting Strong - Calf Care