Animal Health & Disease Management

Young animals: Calf problems (new)


The most common ailments of calves and young stock are diarrhea and pneumonia. Many diseases of newborn calves can be controlled with proper hygiene and health management.

Although calves will inevitably be exposed, minimizing risk factors will result in fewer infections and illness in calves.

Other types of diarrhea in calves and young animals

Usually it is difficult to make a definite diagnosis based purely on the clinical signs. However, a presumptive diagnosis may be made based on the history, age of the calf, and symptoms. Faecal samples from both sick and healthy calves should be taken for submission to a laboratory, together with, if possible, a living sick animal. Some examples are listed below:

Clostridial diarrhoea affects calves/lambs/kids of a few days old, which are strong and have good appetite. Onset is sudden with depression, weakness, bloody diarrhoea, abdominal pain and death within a few hours. Clostridia produce a lot of toxin which kills very fast. Most die before treatment can be started.

Viral infections such as those due to Rotavirus or Coronavirus affect calves of 5 – 15 days old but can affect older calves up to several months of age. Most are only moderately depressed and continue to suck and drink milk. The faeces are soft to liquid, and often contain large amounts of mucous. The diarrhoea often persists for several days. Response to fluid and electrolyte therapy and nutritional support is usually very good.

Cryptosporidiosis occurs most commonly in the second week of life, with persistent diarrhoea which does not respond to treatment. Often it is mild and self limiting but if mixed with other organisms may be severe and life-threatening.

Dietary diarrhoeas occur in calves less than 3 weeks old and shows pasty faeces often of a gelatinous consistency. Initially calves are bright and alert and have good appetites but if the diet is not corrected they become weak and emaciated.

Many infectious forms of diarrhoea are often complicated by poor quality feeds or insufficient nutritional intake.


Worms - When calves/lambs/kids start to graze they can also develop diarrhoea due to worm infection (see link to worms).

Poisoning - Another possible cause for diarrhoea can be plant poisoning (link to plant poisoning) and contaminated feed (especially Aflatoxin!).

Information Source Links

  • Barber, J., Wood, D.J. (1976) Livestock management for East Africa: Edwar Arnold (Publishers) Ltd 25 Hill Street London WIX 8LL. ISBN: 071310063X
  • Blood, D.C., Radostits, O.M. and Henderson, J.A. (1983) Veterinary Medicine - A textbook of the Diseases of Cattle, Sheep, Goats and Horses. Sixth Edition - Bailliere Tindall London. ISBN: 0702012866
  • Blowey, R.W. (1986). A Veterinary book for dairy farmers: Farming press limited Wharfedale road, Ipswich, Suffolk IPI 4LG
  • Force, B. (1999). Where there is no Vet. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands. ISBN 978-0333-58899-4.
  • Hall, H.T.B. (1985). Diseases and parasites of Livestock in the tropics. Second Edition. Longman Group UK. ISBN 0582775140
  • Hunter, A. (1996). Animal health: General principles. Volume 1 (Tropical Agriculturalist) - Macmillan Education Press. ISBN: 0333612027
  • Hunter, A. (1996). Animal health: Specific Diseases. Volume 2 (Tropical Agriculturalist) - Macmillan Education Press. ISBN:0-333-57360-9
  • ITDG and IIRR (1996). Ethnoveterinary medicine in Kenya: A field manual of traditional animal health care practices. Intermediate Technology Development Group and International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, Nairobi, Kenya. ISBN 9966-9606-2-7.
  • Pagot, J. (1992). Animal Production in the Tropics and Subtropics. MacMillan Education Limited London. ISBN 0-333-53818-8
  • The Organic Farmer magazine No. 50 July 2009

Review Process:

1 Draft By William Ayako, Animal scientist, KARI Naivasha Aug 2009
2 Review workshop team. Nov 2 - 5, 2010 

  • For Infonet: Anne Bruntse, Dr Hugh Cran 
  • For KARI: Dr Mario Younan KARI/KASAL, William Ayako - Animal scientist, KARI Naivasha 
  • For DVS: Dr Josphat Muema - Dvo Isiolo, Dr Charity Nguyo - Kabete Extension Division, Mr Patrick Muthui - Senior Livestock Health Assistant Isiolo, Ms Emmah Njeri Njoroge - Senior Livestock Health Assistant Machakos 
  • Pastoralists: Dr Ezra Saitoti Kotonto - Private practitioner, Abdi Gollo H.O.D. Segera Ranch 
  • Farmers: Benson Chege Kuria and Francis Maina Gilgil and John Mutisya Machakos 
  • Language and format: Carol Gachiengo

3: June 2013: Review and update by Dr Mario Younan (DVM, PhD), Regional Technical Advisor for VSF-Germany. working in East Africa since 1995

Table of content