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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care Febrary 2011

Hi Folks,

Over the last two months there have been a bunch of pneumonia outbreaks in herds and I can see more once we get into later winter with daytime above freezing and night times below freezing. So pneumonia will be the topic for discussion this month, in hopes that it can be prevented.

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs which causes various levels of respiratory problems due to impaired function of the lung tissue to take up oxygen. It is often the outcome of various causes such as: (1) primary viral infection with secondary bacterial infection, (2) drenching cows wrong with getting liquid into the wind pipe and into the lungs and (3) irritations of the respiratory lining due to dusts and chemical vapors.

Infectious and contagious pneumonia due to primary viral infection and then secondary bacterial invasion is the most common. This can occur in animals that have been transported and commingled with other animals (shipping fever) as well as first calf heifers freshening in the late autumn/winter and brought inside to join the milking string (happens most often in barns with poor air ventilation). Management to prevent this is to always provide dry bedding and fresh air (but avoid drafts) as well as using one of the intra-nasal vaccines (TSV-2, Nasalgen, Inforce 3) about a week prior to moving or mixing with new animals. This kind of pneumonia is most common when there is damp bedding and stale air. Groups of calves are very susceptible to this, especially if also dealing with internal parasitism.

Aspiration pneumonia is when liquid gets into the lungs, most commonly by pouring a liquid into a cow’s mouth. Never should there be liquid in the lungs. To prevent this, drenching should be avoided entirely. The terrible potential effects of drenching cows incorrectly was already written about in 1916 by Dr. Davis, a veterinarian from Wisconsin who was strongly opposed to drenching cows. It takes as little as 4-8 oz (1/2 - 1 cup) of liquid material (or gel) going down the windpipe to cause severe problems. It is usually due to the animal’s head not being held correctly and also the farmer not paying attention to a cow coughing or thrashing about – she is trying to tell you something! If you absolutely feel that you simply must drench a cow, hold the head only very slightly above parallel to the ground, tip the bottle in and give her a little, stop and allow her to swallow or reject it, and repeat this process until finished. NEVER hold the animal’s nose-to-sky as this will very easily get liquids into the windpipe and lungs. (Tilting the head way back is how doctors pass a tube through the windpipe into the lungs to deliver gas anesthesia.) Instead of drenching, farmers really should invest in a stomach tube & pump (~$100) as this tool will also come in very handy to deal with fresh cows not eating much, feeding them to prevent ketosis, low calcium and possibly a twisted stomach. Pass a stomach tube and pump in 5 gallons of water with whatever else you would like to give (calcium, alfalfa, direct fed microbials, botanicals, etc). You can easily do this 1-2 times a day for the first few days fresh if needed.

Pneumonia due to irritation of the respiratory tract by chemical vapors or dust is probably the easiest to correct – simply remove the animals from the source of irritation and they tend to recover. Typical situations giving rise to this would be animals that are housed in Virginia style counter slope barns that are situated above a manure pit, especially during hot, humid weather with no breeze. The fumes from the ammonia will rise and bother the animals and they will have a dry cough until fresh breezes come by or they are moved elsewhere. Occasionally, dust coming down from activity above the cows or from molds on barn walls can become airborne and cause respiratory symptoms.

Of the three types of pneumonia mentioned, aspiration pneumonia is the hardest to deal with and often proves fatal or leaves the cow severely debilitated and non-functional. It is basic biology that we need to breathe before we do anything else and therefore eating will not occur due to the effort needed to breathe. Pneumonia due to irritation is the easiest to reverse, if the cause is realized soon enough and the animals removed from it. However, if not caught quickly, enough damage can be done so that bacterial invasion of the lung fields occurs and you end up with a bacterial pneumonia. Infectious pneumonia due to a virus or bacteria is always to be of concern - especially on organic farms since antibiotics aren’t to be used without permanent removal of the animal. Therefore prevention with the intranasal vaccine is key, especially if there is a history of this kind of pneumonia occurring on a farm.

In the era prior to antibiotics, pneumonia was a common killer of people and animals. However, not everyone that became ill ended up dying. So it only makes sense to consider what they used back then. Generally, immune serum (made from horses at that time) was the strongest most effective medicine and was in general use. Botanicals and antiseptics were also commonly employed. My first major confrontation with pneumonia in organic animals occurred in about 2002 when a farmer assembled a herd of cows to start his organic herd from scratch. To summarize that experience, nearly every single cow in that barn of 40 cows became ill with a month of arriving (classical shipping fever). Using immune serum, vitamin C and botanicals effectively treated all but 3 cows (2 getting immediate antibiotic therapy and a third one relapsed with the condition soon afterwards).

Though I truly worry every time addressing pneumonia in organic herds, my time-tested treatment is pretty much a “once and done” deal. However, the treatment must be started early. The earliest signs of pneumonia are increased breathing rate, shallow breathing and occasional coughing. Without any treatment, most cattle definitely become worse. These symptoms simply cannot be ignored! The one time treatment for an adult cow is to give intravenous (IV) 250cc Plasma Gold (hyper-immune plasma made from a certified organic donor cow), 250-500cc vitamin C and a bottle of dextrose with 90cc Phyto-Biotic (goldenseal, garlic, ginseng, barberry and oregon grape root tincture) added to the dextrose. A simple follow up of 15-20 cc Phyto-Biotic is given orally twice daily for the next couple days. (15-20cc is not a concern to give orally compared to 120cc (4oz) or more). Calves can be given the 100cc of the hyper-immune plasma (Plasma Gold) under the skin, 5cc/100 lbs vitamin C in the muscle and 5-10cc Phyto-Biotic orally 2-3 times daily for four days. This treatment for cows and calves, if instituted before permanent damage or lung abscesses form, appears to be very effective. Listening to the lungs with a stethoscope is the only way to determine at what stage of infection the animal is. In the recent outbreaks in New York, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, farmers had been drenching pneumonia cows with 8oz of a homemade tea 2-3 times daily and feeding extra minerals and botanicals for a week or more with no noticeable improvement of the animals. The one time IV treatment gave noticeable improvement within 1-2 days.

Having treated numerous organic animals suffering from respiratory problems with strong yet natural medicines given intravenously, I am certain that it is possible to effectively treat infectious pneumonia. However, prevention by providing dry bedding, fresh air and the intranasal vaccine is a much better course of action to begin with. If coughing still occurs, putting animals outdoors if the weather is reasonably nice or better will go a long way to reduce the advance of pneumonia.    


For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:

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