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Posted: 04/04/2023
Herd of dairy calves

Preventing Respiratory Diseases in Calves

Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) can negatively impact a cattle operation – both dairy and beef – in big ways. As the leading cause of morbidity in dairy calves, it’s something we hear quite a bit about from dairy farmer customers who have calves year-round. That’s why we’re sharing some insights from disease experts about treatment and prevention options so you have all the right information for how to care for your animals, especially the calves.


Close up of dairy calf nose

What is Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD)?

If you’ve heard of “shipping fever” you’ve heard of BRD. Whatever you call it, the disease can affect cattle at any time or age, but young animals are more susceptible under stressful conditions. Multiple culprits cause BRD, including bacteria, lacking nutrition, even environmental issues such as cold weather, overcrowding, weaning and more.

The following viruses are also leading causes for BRD:

  • Pneumonia
  • Parainfluenza (PI3)
  • Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus (BRSV)
  • Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR)
  • Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD)

BRD Symptoms to Watch For

If you suspect your animal has a respiratory disease, the BRD symptoms can show up as depression (droopy ears and a lower head position), reduced appetite, unusual respiration with heavy breathing and/or flared nostrils (even a regular cough) and a fever above 104°F. Pay close attention to these main symptoms during the 30-60 day window after feedlot arrival as it appears many cases start there.

Veterinarians advocate for lung ultrasounds as the best way to diagnose early cases of BRD. You may also consider getting properly trained by your vet to do the ultrasounds yourself in the future.

How Long Does Bovine Respiratory Disease Last?

The symptoms mentioned above can last for two weeks or more, depending on how far along the disease was when first discovered. Experts say early diagnosis and treatment is key to tackling BRD, and with calves, it’s even more important to watch them closely in their early days for any signs of illness. Quick action can avoid permanent lung damage and save the operation from bearing long-term production losses like lower weight and later breeding. In fact, Beef Magazine says almost 20% of cow-calf operations experience nursing-calf pneumonia, and it’s the leading cause of death for calves 3 weeks of age and older.

If you need BRD treatment products, your vet may prescribe one of the following which our pharmacy can fill:

As always, pay close attention to product labeling for specific milk and slaughter withdrawals and consult a veterinarian for questions about your individual animals and/or needs. Speaking of the vet, once they prescribe medication for your animal(s), you can place an order on our website and one of our pharmacists will call the vet to verify the prescription for you. Since we contact them directly on your behalf, you simply place your order as usual without having to send a physical prescription in the mail.


BRD Prevention is Key

Stress on calves is inevitable during transport, weaning, etc., so many producers are taking the prevention approach to avoid BRD proactively. In our spring vaccination planning article, we talked about how vaccines are part of a preventative health management strategy that’s best designed in consultation with your vet. That article listed several vaccine options that can help protect against BRD and the viruses that cause it; the vaccines include:

Another preventative product, Zoetis’ NEW Protivity Cattle Vaccine, specifically works to protect against Mycoplasma bovis, which is one of several bacteria that can cause BRD. If your herd has tested positive for mycoplasma bovis bacteria in the past, you may want to consider this vaccine for healthy cattle, 1 week of age or older. Please read all label instructions and discuss questions with your vet.


Protect Your Calves with Products from PBS Animal Health

When you’re looking to stop BRD, shop PBS Animal Health. Remember, our pharmacy service makes ordering prescriptions easier than ever. Simply order online as usual, and supply your vet’s contact information at checkout. Our team takes care of the rest – calling the vet to verify the prescription, and fulfilling the order when the vet approves it. And you know you can count on the secure, fast shipping with all the detailed temperature controls in place – only at PBS Animal Health.


DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this article, and all other articles by pbsanimalhealth is for informational purposes only. This article may have been prepared from multiple sources at the time it was written and is not intended to be used as a sole source of information in making any purchase or specific product use decision. We recommend you always consult with your attending veterinarian to properly diagnose any health-related condition before initiating any prevention or treatment program. Always read and follow each product’s current label instructions and Warnings before use.



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