Cryptosporidiosis (crypto) is a challenging infection which occurs in young calves and results in scouring.

The effect that this scour can have in young calves can range from mild to severe – with calves aged between seven to 13 days old being the common time when this infection strikes.

Unfortunately, if a calf has other intestinal infections such as rotavirus, which tends to be the case when inadequate colostrum has been given, the cases of mortality can be high.

To provide some more insight into the management of this infection, Natascha Meunier, Beef HealthCheck Programme Manager with Animal Health Ireland (AHI), has identified the diagnostic signs farmers should be looking out for and the control measures that need to be put into place.

Diagnosing the infection

Meunier stated: “The parasite which causes the infection is transmitted via the ‘faecal-oral route’ – which occurs when infected calves pass the parasite eggs in their dung and these are then ingested by other calves.

It is not possible to distinguish cryptosporidiosis from other forms of calf scour by the type of scour or clinical signs.

“Some of the clinical signs include weakness, dehydration and profuse watery diarrhoea with strands of mucus.”

If farmers wish to diagnose a cryptosporidiosis case they can submit the faecal samples to a veterinary practitioner or laboratory for testing. These samples must be placed into sterile containers and be from untreated, scouring calves in the early stages of a disease.

Another option is having dead calves undergo a post-mortem by a veterinary laboratory.


Treating the scouring calf

There is a list of protocols which farmers can follow if they wish to effectively treat and reduce the spread of the disease, which Natascha has provided.

Treatment measures:

  • Remove all ill calves from the group and house them in a clean, warm, and dry environment;
  • Give one or two extra feeds (2L each) of a good quality oral rehydration solution;
  • Continue to offer scouring calves normal amounts of milk or milk replacer as long as they want to drink. Suckler calves should be left with their dams;
  • Do not stomach tube milk to sick calves as it will enter the rumen and not be digested;
  • Seek veterinary advice for treating the calves with halofuginone lactate or paromomycin, which can reduce the severity of the infection.

Controlling the disease

Prevention of a disease or infection can be easier than the cure. Main contributors in the spread of this infection is the build up of dung in calf pens, contaminated equipment and trailers. Clothing and the boots of visitors are also potential causes in the spread of the parasite.

Therefore, hygiene is a key tool in the control measure. 

If a person is handling calves, they should wash their hands and ideally change their clothing and footwear in between each group – especially in cases where sick calves are being handled.

According to AHI, a good management tip is to provide all calves with 3L of colostrum within the first two hours of birth.

Meurnier mentions: “Calves should be housed either individually or in small groups in suitably prepared pens/houses and replace or replenish bedding [straw etc] every two days.

“Never mix newborn calves with calves older than three-to-four days.

Follow strict hygiene with feeding equipment such as bottles and buckets and raise feeding and water troughs off the floor, at least 0.75m.

Once a case of cryptosporidiosis enters the farm, it can be hard to eradicate as it resistant to many of the commonly used disinfectants.

For more information on the controlling of cryptosporidiosis, visit the AHI website.