Producers who have experienced hemorrhagic bowel syndrome (HBS) in their herds know the disease is unforgiving. HBS strikes apparently healthy animals without much warning and has a case fatality rate of 85 percent or higher.

“HBS is a relatively new disease, so many dairies may not even be aware of it,” says Kim Anderson, professional services veterinarian for Novartis Animal Health US, Inc. “Unless a postmortem is done, it can easily go undetected.”

HBS begins with sudden and sometimes massive hemorrhage into the small intestine, resulting in blood clots that obstruct the intestine. Treatment measures are rarely successful.

Veterinarian Ahren LaFollette knows how devastating the disease can be.

“Just about every animal I’ve diagnosed has died,” says LaFollette, who, with three partners, owns a practice in Edgerton, Minn. “It makes economic sense for producers to prevent this disease, as an affected cow is usually a dead cow.”

No single cause of HBS has been identified; however, Clostridium perfringens Type A is believed to be a contributing factor, as it is commonly isolated from gastrointestinal tracts of afflicted animals. HBS is also linked with early lactation rations that are rich in energy and protein and low in fiber. Mold has also been implicated in the disease.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint the root cause of HBS, taking a preventive management approach can reduce its occurrence. LaFollette learns all he can about herds experiencing HBS problems. He then tailors a prevention program that meets the needs of the dairy. Some of his common recommendations are to:

  • Conduct postmortem examinations on cows that die of unknown causes.
  • Minimize stress on cows by avoiding overcrowding and frequent mixing of animals into different groups.
  • Examine the ration to make sure it contains adequate long-stem forages.
  • Check feed quality to make sure cows are not receiving feed with mold in it.
  • Begin a vaccination program that includes a vaccine for Clostridium perfringens Type A. 

LaFollette notes that the goal of a prevention program is to minimize losses. “We haven’t been able to completely eliminate losses due to HBS. However, significant positive results can be seen in herds, making prevention well worth the effort.”

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Source: Novartis Animal Health US, Inc.