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As a farmer, the health of your cattle is largely your responsibility. At times, the government can assist in preventing or managing cattle diseases. This is necessary if the disease is particularly infectious or dangerous. Animal diseases endanger public health and affect businesses and the economy as a whole. For that reason, it is important to take proper measures to prevent the outbreak of diseases, including vaccinating livestock and keeping animal housing clean. That said, here are the top ten diseases that affect cattle in the US.

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Mastitis is characterized by an inflammatory reaction of udder tissues due to microorganism infections or physical trauma. It’s an infection common in dairy cattle that is not fatal unless severe and left untreated. Mastitis is known to cause heavy financial losses. Several species of microorganisms cause Mastitis. They include fungi, bacteria, mycoplasma, and viruses. Some common symptoms include udder inflammation, which turns into a red and hard mass. The mammary gland is normally painful, and a mere touch causes the animal to kick. The milk is usually tainted with blood clots, brown discharge, milk clots, and a foul smell.

Prevention and Treatment

The first step to preventing Mastitis is by ensuring hygiene. Ensure the environment and the cow’s teats are properly cleaned and dried. The infected milk should be drained three times a day and properly disposed of. Intramammary antibiotics are typically the first treatment for cattle with mild symptoms. Additionally, you can opt for systematic antibiotics given through the intramuscular route.

Paratuberculosis (Johne’s disease)

Paratuberculosis, or Johne’s disease, is a chronic and contagious bacterial disease that infects the intestinal tract. It typically affects sheep, cattle, goats, and ruminant animals. The infected animals shed the paratuberculosis bacteria in colostrum, milk, or manure. Young animals will likely get infected by ingesting contaminated milk or being in the same environment as the affected cattle. The disease is characterized by diarrhea and progressive weight loss despite an adequate pasture supply and appetite.

Prevention and treatment

There is no known treatment for paratuberculosis. An effective control measure involves good sanitation and management practices, including regular tests for new animals. As a result, infected animals can be identified and eliminated. Calves and lambs should be born in clean areas free of manure. Vaccines for the disease are commonly used under strict regulatory control and in well-defined conditions.

Bovine Respiratory Disease

Sometimes referred to as “shipping fever,” BRD is one of the most common and costly diseases affecting cattle in the USA. It includes many diseases affecting beef cattle’s upper and lower respiratory tracts. Some BRD pathogens can trigger abortion in pregnant cows. Besides being the leading cause of illness in nursing calves, it is much more difficult to detect and treat, particularly in cows on pastures or in confined facilities. Some of the causes of BRD include:

  • Infectious agents: Viruses, bacteria, and parasites.
  • Environment: Overcrowded conditions, poor air quality, temperature fluctuations.
  • Host factors: Immune status, genetics, and nutritional status.

Prevention and Treatment

Bovine respiratory disease can lead to severe illness or death if not detected early. The first prevention measure is vaccination, which is appropriate for your marketing practices or management system. Additionally, check on your animal’s nutrition and follow a nutritionist’s advice to correct deficiencies and imbalances.

Bovine Viral Diarrhea

Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) is a serious and costly disease caused by the Bovine Viral Diarrhea virus. The signs of BVD highly depend on the immune status of your cattle and the strain of the virus. Most cattle are exposed through contact with recently infected animals, contaminated water buckets, calf feeders, IV equipment, and feed bunks. The disease appears as an acute and severe sickness for non-vaccinated animals with high fever, bloody diarrhea, ulcers, and pneumonia. Some infected animals may recover within two weeks, while others may die.

Prevention and Treatment

If you detect the signs early, conduct a BVDV vaccination program immediately. This will mitigate transmission and contain the virus before it spreads further to the rest of the herd. Cattle exposed to the virus within 125 days of pregnancy will likely give birth to infected calves. These calves should be separated from the rest of the cattle and treated. It is also recommended to conduct continuous BVD testing because carriers can also infect vaccinated animals.


Brucellosis is an infectious disease caused by a contagious bacteria called Brucella. It is a communicable disease mainly affecting cattle, bison, and swine. It causes the loss of young through abortion or weak offspring, leads to infertility, and reduces milk production. Brucellosis is transmitted by direct contact with infected uterine secretions, fetuses, placentas, and infected blood. It can also affect humans by consuming raw animal products like milk.

Prevention and Treatment

Attempts to produce a cure for brucellosis in animals have repeatedly failed. Animals may occasionally recover after a long period. However, in most cases, only the symptoms disappear, leaving the animals sick. Such animals risk infecting other animals with whom they interact. An infected animal should be slaughtered for health and safety. Brucellosis can be avoided by following basic sanitation procedures. Proper herd management practices also help to avoid the disease. These include keeping closed herds, documenting individual animal identification, and keeping accurate records.

Grass Tetany

Grass tetany, also known as hypomagnesemia or grass staggers, is a metabolic disorder primarily affecting grazing livestock, particularly cattle, and sheep. It occurs when animals consume forage with low magnesium and high potassium levels. The condition is more prevalent in early spring when lush, rapidly growing grasses have imbalanced mineral content. Low magnesium levels disrupt the normal functioning of the nervous system, leading to muscle spasms, convulsions, and in severe cases, death. Prevention and treatment involve providing magnesium supplements, managing pasture quality, and ensuring a balanced diet for livestock to maintain adequate magnesium levels and prevent the onset of grass tetany.

Prevention and Treatment

Prevention and treatment strategies are essential to manage this condition in the United States. Prevention involves providing mineral supplements high in magnesium and calcium to maintain adequate levels in the diet. Additionally, ensuring a balanced diet with appropriate protein and energy levels can reduce the risk. In cases where Grass Tetany occurs, immediate treatment is necessary, often involving intravenous administration of magnesium and calcium solutions. Regular monitoring of the herd’s mineral status and prompt veterinary intervention is crucial to effectively preventing and managing Grass Tetany.

Bovine leukosis (BLV)

Bovine leukosis is a blood-borne cattle disease caused by the bovine leukosis virus (BLV). The virus lives in white blood cells known as lymphocytes. Only about 5% of BLV-infected cows develop clinical disease. The predominant sign of clinical illness is the growth of tumors. These are commonly found in one or more of the following areas of the body. They include the uterus, the heart, the abomasum,  and the spinal canal. Internal lymph nodes can expand and become visible beneath the skin at times.

Prevention and Treatment

Preventing exposure to blood from sick animals to healthy ones is the basis of bovine leukosis preventive methods. Colostrum from seronegative cows is frequently recommended for calves. However, the majority of epidemiologic evidence indicates that the preventive measures of colostral antibodies can reduce the risk of spreading, especially in herds with a high prevalence of infection. Using a high-quality milk substitute instead of whole milk is also recommended. Calves should never feed on milk stained with blood.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE/ Mad Cow Disease)

BSE, sometimes known as Mad Cow Disease, is a degenerative brain condition of cattle caused by infection with a rare transmissible agent known as a prion. The nature of the transmissible agent remains unknown. The normal prion protein turns into a pathogenic (harmful) form for unknown reasons, causing damage to cattle’s central nervous system. A typical symptom of BSE in a cow is incoordination. An ill cow has difficulty walking and standing. An infected cow may also exhibit nervous or violent behavior, which is why BSE is sometimes known as “mad cow disease.”

Prevention and Treatment

Government initiatives and regulations prohibit practices that may enable contaminated proteins to reach the human and animal food chains. There is no recognized treatment for the human form of mad cow disease. After a few years, the condition rapidly worsens and eventually turns fatal. If you detect any of the symptoms, you should consult a physician. Although other causes may trigger similar symptoms, a prompt diagnosis is critical.


Anaplasmosis is an infectious blood illness caused by Anaplasma central and Anaplasma marginale in cattle. It is also called “yellow bag” or “yellow fever.” This bacteria causes the disease that is transmitted primarily through external parasites such as ticks and biting flies. The bacteria affects red blood cells, resulting in severe anemia. Symptoms of anaplasma include:

  • Anemia
  • Fever
  • Jaundice
  • Uncoordinated movements
  • Weight loss
  • Breathlessness
  • Abortion
  • Death

Prevention and Treatment

In endemic locations, control of infections can be achieved with low-level antibiotic treatments in animal pastures during vector season. There are ways to reduce the spread of disease, including controlling ticks and flies and cleaning and disinfecting injection equipment. A few vaccines can prevent anaplasmosis. However, consult a specialist before using these vaccines in gestation due to the probability of neonatal isoerythrolysis in calves born to vaccinated cows.

Foot Rot

Foot rot is typically distinguished by severe skin inflammation and associated soft tissues of the interdigital area. Various microorganisms found in the environment may lead to infection in cattle feet. Healthy skin is resistant to bacterial organisms, whereas diseased or wounded skin is vulnerable to infection. Lameness is the most visible clinical indication of foot rot, and it increases as the disease advances. Foot rot is frequently associated with a foul odor.

Prevention and Treatment

Move the animals to a yard that is not flooded and has no rough footings. Remove any muck and tissue tags from the affected foot. For a successful response, a quick diagnosis and antibiotic therapy are required. Local therapies for the foot may also help. Nevertheless, injectable antibiotics delivered for 3-5 days are the preferred treatment.

Final Thoughts

Animal diseases endanger animal welfare, the environment, human health, and the economy. Livestock diseases cause losses through increased mortality, decreased productivity, trade losses, and food insecurity. Animal disease outbreaks have high economic impacts not only on cattle farmers but also on the government as a whole. Therefore, it is important to put prevention and control measures in place as soon as infections are detected.