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Cattle Need Vaccines Too!

By March 27, 2022March 7th, 2023No Comments

Cattle need vaccines too! Today’s post will highlight some of the common diseases that we can protect cattle against using vaccines.

Respiratory Diseases

Respiratory diseases are common in cattle, particularly in cattle that travel off the farm or through sale barns. Part of the respiratory disease problem is that when cattle are stressed, their immune systems are suppressed, that is, it doesn’t work as well to protect the animal. Cattle are typically stressed when traveling. Traveling also exposes cattle to different pathogens that they might not have immunity to and then cattle get sick. Vaccinating for respiratory disease doesn’t mean that your cattle will never get respiratory disease, but it can reduce the severity of the illness in the individual animal and decrease the spread of disease.

The respiratory vaccines that are available to cattle are primarily viruses. The most common viruses are Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis, Parainfluenza, and Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus. When cattle get sick with these viruses, the viruses reduce the cow’s ability to fight disease and they will often get secondary infections with bacteria. A good vaccination program means that your cattle would be vaccinated well before any stressful events so the vaccines have time to work and cattle are protected during the event.


This is a disease caused by a bacteria that affects the kidneys and sheds in the urine. Leptospirosis commonly circulates with few clinical signs in deer and rodent populations. Cattle can become infected with the bacteria by drinking water or eating feed contaminated with urine from these species or other infected cattle.

In many cases, cattle show few outward clinical signs of being infected with leptospirosis. More commonly, the symptoms of leptospirosis in cattle is infertility, abortion, stillbirths or birth of weak or premature calves.

Bovine Viral Diarrhea

Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) is a complex disease that is common in cattle. The virus can shut down the immune system which leads to pneumonia, particularly in stressed cattle. Other aspects of the disease are variable and clinical signs can be non-existent to severe. Most common clinical signs are fever, depression, reduced milk production, respiratory signs and diarrhea. Cattle infected with type 2 BVD will often have a severe form of the disease that includes oral ulcers, diarrhea, and ulcers at the coronary band on the feet. These cattle have a high mortality rate of up to 25%.

Pregnant cattle that are exposed or infected with the virus risk exposure to the gestating fetus. If infected during certain stages of gestation, calves will be born persistently infected with the virus. These calves may be healthy at first but their life is much shorter than normal animals. These animals will shed the virus continuously without visible signs of illness and expose all the animals in the herd to BVD.

Clostridial Diseases

There are a variety of Clostridial diseases that affect animals. The most notorious is Tetanus, caused by Clostridia tetani. Clostridial organisms are prevalent in the soil and gain access to animal body’s through small wounds in the skin. Once in the contaminated wound, the bacteria multiplies quickly releasing toxins that cause clinical signs. The bacteria prefers an environment with no oxygen. This family of diseases causes very fast and fatal diseases. Some diseases include Tetanus, Black leg, malignant edema, Big head and more.

Cows dead from clostridial disease.


Rabies is a fatal neurologic disease that is transmitted through saliva from infected animals. While we don’t consider cows as animals that typically bite, they can still pass the virus on to other animals and people through infected saliva. The virus can gain access to the body through cuts and mucous membranes (eyes and nose).

The symptoms of rabies in cattle is rarely the furious form, where cows become aggressive and attach anything that moves. More commonly, they are affected by the paralytic form, which starts as inability to swallow, weakness and recumbency. Often, people are exposed to the virus when they think that a cow has something caught in its throat causing it’s inability to swallow.

Therefore, any cattle that spend time with humans are recommended to have the Rabies vaccine. Particularly cattle that are being showed or in close contact with humans (milking, petting zoos etc) should be vaccinated for Rabies.

This article only highlights a few of the common diseases that affect cows. As always, contact your veterinarian to further discuss the risks your cattle might have for disease. Your veterinarian will be able to formulate a vaccine protocol to protect your herd.

References and for more detailed reading:

Emily Dutton