Recognizing the Symptoms of BRD

Being aware of the signs of bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is imperative when managing a BRD breakout. During the production process, there are times when cattle are more susceptible to BRD. For example, the likelihood of an animal developing BRD is greater following any environmental, nutritional or management stress-inducing situations. These stressors can include: weaning, co-mingling, transport, changes in feeding rations or climate changes. Cattle that have been stressed should be observed daily to help spot BRD early.

First, cattle should be checked early in the morning before they get pushed to the back of the pen by the other cattle. Cattle are masters at hiding sickness. Getting them up on their feet and moving will allow producers to pinpoint those that are slow moving and thus, perhaps sick. Cattle that appear to be ill should be moved into a separate area away from healthy cattle for further evaluation.

When evaluating cattle, look for the following signs that could be indicators of illness:

  1.  Lack of appetite
  2. Clear nasal discharge
  3. Runny eyes
  4. Lethargic appearance
  5. Droopy ears
  6. Increased breathing
  7. Slow movement
  8. Soft repetitive cough
  9. Loose feces

If an animal is presenting any of these signs, further evaluate using a thermometer and stethoscope. The temperature of cattle suffering from BRD typically ranges from 103° to 108°F. If BRD is suspected, administer immediate treatment to help get cattle back to a healthy state as quickly as possible.

5 thoughts on “Recognizing the Symptoms of BRD

  1. This winter I’ve had animals that have an additional symptom: shivering. I’m pretty observant, and I think I notice sick animals quite early in the disease process. Earlier this winter, this was in young milk-fed calves. They’d be fine one feeding, and then the next they don’t want to eat, they don’t want to stand, and they are shivering. Pennicillin seemed to cure them just fine. But now, I’ve found the same symptoms in two older animals in just the last two days. One 6 month old calf and one who is 20 months old. Any ideas?

    • First and foremost it is critical that you contact your local veterinarian to do a complete evaluation of your animals’ health status. With that in mind, that is a very astute observation and is most likely indicative of more than just respiratory disease going on in the milk-fed calf. 

      Given the age and diet of your calves, we tend to see more in the way of digestive disorders. These disorders can lead to severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances that can cause an animal to become recumbent (unable to rise). I would contact your herd veterinarian and have them do a complete evaluation of the animals, your facilities and diets. 

      There are too many factors involved to give you accurate valuable information over the internet, but I can offer a couple of tips that can help you evaluate the animals when they are in this condition:

        First, take their temperature (normal for a calf 101.5-103F), young calves do not have much fat reserve. They also are not producing internal heat from the rumination process. When acting as a temporary monogastric, they can be become hypoglycemic (low blood sugar), more susceptible to environmental and become recumbent.

        Secondly, you will need to check the hydration status of the calf. This can be done by a couple of different methods. First, you can check the elasticity of the skin by tenting it and observing how many seconds it takes to return to normal. A normally hydrated calf will return almost immediately. Second, look at the capillary refill time. Lift up the calf’s lip and on the gum where it is pink or pinkish grey, push with your finger to produce a lighter colored area, usually white from the pressure of your finger emptying the capillaries that are close to the mucosal surface, quickly let off the pressure of your finger and see how fast it returns to the initial color. Calves that are extremely dehydrated, septic, or in shock will already have pale gums and will have little or no change in color. Calves that are hydrated will have a fast return to the pinkish color present before you applied pressure with your finger.

       All in all it sounds like a great opportunity to explore your situation with your veterinary professional as they will be able to leave no stone unturned in investigating what is going on with your calves. I would also encourage you to do this sooner than later, if, as you have mentioned, you are seeing similar signs in calves of different ages, possibly indicating the spread through your herd.

      Thanks for the great question.

  2. Pingback: Recommendations for Managing a BRD Breakout | BRD Report: From the Fence Post

  3. Pingback: Prevention, Control, and Treatment of Bovine Respiratory Disease in Cattle (Video) | Beef Cattle 101

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