Skip to Main navigation Skip to Left navigation Skip to Main content Skip to Footer

University of Minnesota Extension

Extension > Local Extension Offices > Morrison > County Agriculture Educator > Articles > Bovine Respiratory Disease: Not Just Pneumonia in Calves, Part 1 of 2

Bovine Respiratory Disease: Not Just Pneumonia in Calves, Part 1 of 2

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
July 8, 2015

Source:  Emily Wilmes, Extension Educator-Livestock
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties


Bovine Respiratory Disease: Not Just Pneumonia in Calves, Part 1 of 2
By Emily Wilmes, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn (07/08/15) — I was recently on a visit at a dairy farm when the discussion turned to pneumonia.  The farmer mentioned to me how he knows a lot about prevention and treatment for his calves, but was less sure about pneumonia in cows.  Pneumonia, bronchial pneumonia, Fibrinous pleuropneumonia, and shipping fever are all common terms used to refer to Bovine Respiratory Disease, or BRD.  BRD is a major cause of economic losses to the dairy industry.  Depending on the organism involved, death from BRD can occur within 24 to 36 hours of symptoms appearing, or the infection can become chronic, producing widespread, permanent lung damage. The animal may survive, but it will always carry some residual lung problems that will impact performance. That is why early recognition and treatment of BRD are so important.

Bovine respiratory disease is defined as a complex.  This is because it is usually caused by a variety of pathogens, both viral and bacterial, that interact with one another to produce disease, and the behavior of these pathogens follows a step by step process that results in sick animals.  Bacterial pathogens cause the acute syndrome by invading the bovine respiratory tract that has been compromised by viral infections. Preceding and contributing to the infection is the stress of weaning, change of feed and variations in ambient temperature and humidity, all of which tend to reduce energy reserves.

BRD manifests in numerous ways in dairy cows, depending on the age of the animal, causative organisms and stage of the disease.  Identifying sick cows is, unfortunately, not an exact science, but watch for these early clinical signs of BRD: fever, depression, inappetence, nasal and eye discharge that is watery, sticky, and clear, nasal discharge that is thick and cloudy, crusty muzzle, salivation, mild diarrhea, shallow and rapid breathing, soft coughing, and a stiff gait.

If you are addressing bovine respiratory disease on your farm, a strategy you can use to manage the complex is identifying fevers, especially in fresh cows.  Check temperatures for the first ten days after calving, and do so in the early morning to avoid skewed numbers caused by warm midday ambient temperatures.  Another helpful tool is having a Complete Blood Count, or CBC, done on one or some of your cows.  This can help determine the stage of the disease and what the causative organisms are.  If you do lose a cow, consider having a necropsy performed.  This can help evaluate what organisms are involved and how various treatments are working.

If one or multiple cows in your herd do have BRD, there are a wide range of antibiotic treatment options available.  Like other antibiotic treatments, it’s important to consider factors such as milk safety, speed of action, mode of action, spectrum of activity, and susceptibility when selecting a treatment. As always, you should consult with your veterinarian.


PART 2 to be published on July 15, 2015.


Emily Wilmes
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems - Livestock
(320) 255-6169
  • © Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
  • The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Privacy