MANHATTAN, Kan. — Just as cold and flu season hits the country, seasonal sickness can also be found in young calves during the winter months. One of those main illnesses is scours. Signs of this disease include watery stools, a decreased desire to nurse and overall depression.

For many, a common question is whether or not antibiotics should be included in the treatment strategy. Kansas State University veterinarians Bob Larson, Brad White and Mike Apley discussed this topic on a recent Beef Cattle Institute podcast at

“A lot of these calves really don’t need antibiotics if a virus or parasite is causing the diarrhea,” Larson said.

“Often what is actually causing the scours is a virus, which the antibiotics won’t affect,” he added. “But the virus damages the gut wall so that the calf is more likely to have a secondary infection in the bloodstream due to bacteria that is commonly found in the gut.”

While antibiotics may be part of the scours treatment protocol in debilitated calves, it is not the only treatment option needed, according to Apley.

“About 30% of the calves with scours will end up with bacteria in their blood,” he said. “An antibiotic might be part of the treatment, but if the calves are lying flat then there are hydration and blood acid/base problems and those calves will need intravenous fluids. The antibiotic alone will not be sufficient.”

“Work with your veterinarian to find out the right diagnosis and know what the pathogen challenge is. If you have a history of cases that aren’t responding well then it is time to do further testing to isolate the pathogen in the lab and match it to the appropriate treatment.”