Skip to Main Content Skip to Footer Content
Posted: 08/20/2023
Beef cattle in pasture

Demystifying Clostridial Diseases: A Comprehensive Guide for Producers

No matter where in the United States your operation is based, chances are you are vaccinating against common clostridial diseases like tetanus and blackleg. But you may often wonder what exactly is a clostridial disease? These diseases come from bacteria that can spread – and survive – in the environment for some time, wreaking havoc for producers trying to keep their animals and their profits healthy. Let’s dig into the topic for a more comprehensive understanding of what clostridial diseases are, how they come about, and how you can prevent them.

Common Clostridial Diseases

Bacteria from a group of organisms known as Clostridium create clostridial diseases. According to Merck, nearly 100 Clostridium species have been identified, but only 25 to 30 commonly cause human or animal disease. Most species form spores and can survive in the soil for long periods of time. Others exist naturally in animals’ intestinal tracts and don’t cause problems unless certain conditions exist that lead the organism to multiply or invade tissue. Once they multiply, infection is sudden and often severe.

The various clostridial diseases that can infect livestock include:

  • Tetanus
  • Blackleg
  • Enterotoxemia (several types)
  • Botulism
  • Malignant edema
  • Acute cervical edema
  • Clostridial hepatitis
Enterotoxemia types C & D and tetanus are the most common clostridial diseases in sheep. Newborn lambs experience Type C, described as bloody scours, an indigestion-related bloody infection in the lambs’ small intestine. Type D is referred to as overeating disease (or sometimes pulpy kidney disease) and occurs when lambs over one month of age have toxic reactions to changes in feed. The feed causes the clostridium organism – which already exists in the animals’ guts – to multiply quickly. In healthy feedlot cattle, overeating disease often results in sudden death.

Can Humans Get Clostridial Disease?

Yes, humans can also contract clostridial diseases, and like many animal species, we already have normal clostridial bacteria in our intestines. One disease example you may have heard of is C. difficile-induced colitis (better known as “C. diff.”). The colon becomes inflamed when bacterial strains overgrow and create toxins following antibiotic use. This condition typically occurs following a long hospital stay and symptoms include diarrhea that can be bloody. C. diff. causes around 500,000 infections each year in the U.S. alone.

C. perfringens bacteria are responsible for the most frequent clostridial infections called gastroenteritis. This inflammation of the stomach lining and small intestines can be acquired from food, water, other people, or animals, and leads to vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Foodborne illness, otherwise known as food poisoning, causes nearly 1 million illnesses in the U.S. every year. C. perfringens can also cause soft-tissue infections like cellulitis and myositis. These occur after an injury when foreign material creates opportunity for infection and gas appears in the soft tissues.

The Spread and Symptoms of Clostridial Diseases

We mentioned earlier that these organisms form spores in the soil, but they’re also found in water and decaying vegetation, and often spread when animals unknowingly eat contaminated feed. Infected animals can also bring clostridial organisms to new facilities, and once they’re identified, experts suggest that the facility should consider ongoing preventative vaccination protocols.

While symptoms vary from disease to disease, one thing is common: these are acute diseases and they often lead to quick deaths. Tetanus organisms inhabit the soil and can find their way into any wound (including infections following castration, shearing, etc.) or through unsanitary lambing or calving practices. Once inside an animal’s body, they release toxins into the blood that impact muscles and nerve endings. Symptoms of tetanus include “lockjaw,” a stiff gait, convulsions and extreme muscle tension. Blackleg is another disease that impacts cattle and sheep muscles (the heavy muscle areas) with sudden lameness and depression. Sometimes you can feel accumulated gas under the animal’s skin, but even then the muscle damage is often too severe for the animal to recover. Malignant edema produces a similar condition to blackleg, but you’ll find swelling around a wound along with depression and a high fever. Sanitary conditions and wound prevention help avoid malignant edema, as do vaccines.

Vaccines to Help Combat Clostridium

Prevention is key when it comes to clostridial diseases because it can be difficult to recognize symptoms, especially during swift disease progression. Botulism and blackleg treatments are often unsuccessful, and tetanus treatment must start early in the disease to avoid fatality. This is why it’s important to talk to your veterinarian about incorporating clostridial coverage into your yearly vaccination program.

Products to fight clostridial diseases
Here are a few of our customers’ favorite vaccines available for clostridial disease prevention:

  • Bovilis Cavalry 9 Cattle Vaccine: Powerful, broad-spectrum protection against 9 Clostridial diseases, including Tetanus. Recommended for the immunization of healthy cattle 3 months of age or older. Dosage: 2 ml subcutaneously, repeat in 3 weeks. Calves vaccinated with Calvary 9 at 3-6 months of age should be given a third vaccination. Revaccinate annually. 21 day slaughter withdrawal.
  • Bovilis Vision 7 Somnus with SPUR Cattle Vaccine: Protect your healthy cattle and prevent diseases from 7 kinds of Clostridial organisms with this 7-way vaccine from Merck Animal Health. Dosage: 2 ml subcut, repeat in 3-4 weeks. Calves vaccinated under 3 months of age should be revaccinated at 4-6 months or weaning. Annual revaccination recommended. 21 day slaughter withdrawal.
  • Bar-Vac CD/T Cattle, Sheep and Goat Vaccine: Get economical and convenient disease protection with Bar-Vac CD/T from Boehringer Ingelheim. The 250 ml bottle provides 50 cattle doses or 125 sheep doses to protect against enterotoxemia and tetanus. Dosage: Cattle - 5 ml; Sheep and goats - 2 ml subcut. Repeat in 21-28 days and annually. 21 day slaughter withdrawal.
  • Bovilis Covexin 8 Cattle and Sheep Vaccine: Merck Animal Health’s Bovilis Covexin 8 offers healthy cattle and sheep protection against disease caused by Clostridium chauvoei, septicum, novyi, haemolyticum, tetani and perfringens types C & D. Dosage: Cattle - 5 ml IM or subcut, repeat in 6 weeks; Sheep - 5 ml subcut at 10-12 weeks of age, followed by 2 ml in 6 weeks. Revaccinate annually. Cattle and sheep should be revaccinated for Cl. novyi and haemolyticum every 5-6 months. 21 day slaughter withdrawal.
Find a full list of all the sheep/goat vaccines as well as dairy cattle and beef cattle vaccines we carry online. We’ve also created vaccine comparison charts for several species that you can reference as needed.

Be Proactive with PBS Animal Health

Keep clostridial diseases at bay with a variety of livestock vaccines from trusted manufacturers. Our PBS Animal Health team works hard to ensure all vaccines are stored properly – from the moment they arrive at our dock until they arrive at your doorstep. Vaccines don’t only get shipped fast, they get shipped right! Because you can count on PBS Animal Health.

Visit The Learning Center For More Articles

Read the Latest