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Ask a Vet: How to prevent calf bloat

Angela Garavet for Progressive Dairy Published on 16 September 2020

Bloating in calves under 3 weeks old is usually caused by accumulating gas in their abomasum. This is a high-mortality-rate disease (usually over 60%) that happens quickly (usually within 24 hours).

The cause of this disease is still not fully understood. There are a few theories:

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  1. Abomasal wall bacterial infection
  2. Decreased immunity from inadequate colostrum
  3. Ingestion of a foreign body
  4. Vitamin or mineral deficiencies (vitamin E, selenium, copper)

It is likely the cause of this disease is multifactorial. The first theory is the disease is caused by either Clostridium perfringens type A, Sarcinia, Streptococcus spp., E. coli or Salmonella typhimurium. Clostridium perfringens has been able to cause bloat in clinical studies but is also a part of the normal gut flora. Certain strains of this bacteria make large quantities of toxins. When these numbers increase, gas is produced inside the abomasum. Usually these bacterial numbers increase with large amounts of easily digestible carbohydrates and proteins.

Feeding practices that are inconsistent, increasing the volume per feeding, feeding cold milk, having a higher osmolality and giving a high-energy oral electrolyte solution can all slow the rate of abomasal emptying. This prolonging of abomasal emptying increases the rate of GI disease in calves.

Since this disease happens so quickly, it is easier to prevent it from happening than to treat the calf. Passing a tube usually doesn’t work because the gas you’re trying to relieve is in the abomasum, and the tube will likely hit the rumen or reticulum. (This differs from cows that have a ruminal bloat. You can usually easily pass a tube.)  end mark

PHOTO: Mike Dixon.

Angela Garavet
  • Angela Garavet

  • Professional Services Veterinarian
  • Armor Animal Health

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