PHOTO: iStock/Thinkstock
Anna O'Brien
December 19, 2016

A farm vet’s world is relatively quiet between mid-November and about mid-February except for the obligatory emergencies, of course. Here’s a sample of some herd health issues that seem to rise up in cold weather. But let’s make it a bit festive, shall we?

On the first day of Christmas, a client gave to me:

A Goat That Ate An Azalea Tree

Azaleas are toxic to sheep and goats. Even ingesting a small amount of the plant causes abdominal pain and vomiting. There’s no antidote, so we treat them symptomatically with pain relievers for the upset stomach and fluids and electrolytes to combat dehydration.

One the second day of Christmas, a client gave to me:

2 Bloated Ponies

The dead of winter, with its dearth of pasture, is an enticing time to burglarize the feed room. Gorging on grain is dangerous—even life-threatening—for horses, as grain overload can cause colic and laminitis, an extremely painful inflammation of the hooves. We administer mineral oil and anti-inflammatories in these cases to try to reduce the amount of excessive carbohydrates that are absorbed in the intestines.

On the third day of Christmas, a client gave to me:

3 Dead Hens

Oh, poultry. They can be so fun yet so challenging. Fowl frequently die with no outward signs of trouble. (I call it fowl play.) I usually recommend the farmer send the bodies to the local county diagnostic lab to determine cause of death in case we need to treat or otherwise monitor the rest of the flock.

On the fourth day of Christmas, a client gave to me:

4 Lame Horses

When weather is unsettled—going from dry hard ground to wet mud—this causes a horse’s hooves to expand and contract repeatedly. If there are tiny cracks in the sole of the hoof, this allows bacteria to get into the tissue, causing a hoof abscess. While very painful, it is easily treated by soaking in Epsom salts or having your vet or farrier pare it out with a hoof knife.

On the fifth day of Christmas, a client gave to me:

5 Ringworm Rings

Ringworm—actually a fungus, not a parasite—is common in cattle and small ruminants during damp conditions and in crowded environments. It can be a challenge to treat if conditions aren’t favorable, but the key is to keep the lesions dry so that they crust over and heal. Remember ringworm is zoonotic, meaning humans can catch it, too.

On the sixth day of Christmas, a client gave to me:

6 Holsteins Calving

Dairy cows calve any time of year, as opposed to beef cattle, which tend to be more seasonal. Calving isn’t necessarily an emergency, but it is something that inevitably tends to occur in the middle of a really, really cold night.

On the seventh day of Christmas, a client gave to me:

7 Steers A-Squinting

Pinkeye is a common infectious disease in cattle caused by bacteria transmitted by flies. Signs of pinkeye range from mild squinting and tearing to corneal ulcers and even blindness. We treat pinkeye with antibiotics, and in herds where it is a frequent problem, a vaccine can be used.

On the eighth day of Christmas, a client gave to me:

8 Alpacas Spitting

Alpacas and llamas sometimes spit to communicate malcontent. It’s a veterinary emergency only in that we are occasionally in the line of fire.

On the ninth day of Christmas, a client gave to me:

9 Hogs A-Coughing

Respiratory disease is a frequent occurrence in hog barns. Proper ventilation, sanitation and vaccination can prevent most outbreaks.

On the tenth day of Christmas, a client gave to me:

10 Does Lactating

Goats can have funky hormonal abnormalities happen every once in awhile. One such condition is called precocious udder, where a female goat will produce milk even though she’s not pregnant.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, a client gave to me:

11 Steers Circling

Circling disease is sometimes seen in cattle and small ruminants due to a sporadic bacterial infection called listeriosis. This bacterium travels to the brain and causes neurological signs, such as walking in circles. If treated early with antibiotics, the animal can fully recover.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, a client gave to me:

12 Donkeys Drooling

When one animal drools, we think of dental disease. When multiple animals drool, we think of something in the feed. Red clover grass and hay can sometimes be infected with a particular fungus that produces a toxin called slaframine, which causes excessive drooling. Although not lethal, it can be a little disconcerting to owners. Treatment is as easy as removing the offending food.


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