Farmers with suspected cases of ‘waterbelly’ in calves urged to contact ICBF

Atresia or waterbelly, is a genetic defect found in many mammals, and has been called a silent killer of new-born calves by the ICBF.

Calves with atresia are born with no back passage or have parts of their guts blocked.

Farmers are being called on to help the ICBF, Teagasc and the Regional Veterinary Laboratories to submit calf carcasses with suspected atresia to the local Regional Veterinary Laboratory.

Blockage of the guts is much more common in calves and is also known as waterbelly, which is due to the build up of gut fluids in the unborn calf during pregnancy.

The ICBF has said that a calf with atresia will usually be born normally and seem like any other calf until after its first suck or feed of colostrum.

Some calves affected by the disease will have a large belly, can cause a difficult calving and after its first feed the calf will remain full, pass no faeces and decline to suck further.

The ICBF advises that the calf may go down, pant, swell up, kick in pain or be found dead at two to seven days old.

This is an extremely painful condition and once suspected the local vet should be called to decide what to do with the calf.

Dosing with liquid paraffin or inserting a probe up the back passage will have no positive effect and in turn may cause painful injuries, it has advised.

In cattle it is thought that atresia coli is the most common form, but research at Teagasc Moorepark carried out by Dr. John Mee has found atresia jejuni is the more common form in Ireland.

Thus, ICBF and Irish farmers need to know whether there is a genetic cause of this condition in our herds.

The more affected animals it gets samples from, the more likely ICBF be able to find the genes that cause the problem in cattle so it can prevent it from happening in the future.

It has said that the best animals to get tissue or hair samples from are ones that will be going for post-mortem so that it can determine what sort of atresia is present and also how many blockages there are in the animal.

But as with any possible congenital defect, all reports and samples are appreciated.

If you would like to report any defects including atresia, please fill out the congenital defects survey and send pictures to Jennifer McClure at [email protected]

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