Signalment: 1 month old red Angus heifer bottle calf
Calf history: Found shortly after birth and cow wouldn’t claim her. Owner gave colostrum replacer. Calf was a completely normal and healthy until yesterday when she seemed off – not wanting to come up to be fed like normal. Today, the calf was laying down and not wanting to get up. She was not given any medications.
Herd history: Very diligent, experienced producers that make sure the cows and calves are vaccinated and dewormed appropriately. Nutrition is excellent and calving environment is good. No other bottle calves in her pen with the same diet were acting sick.
Day 1: Presented in lateral recumbency (laying on her side). Temperature was normal at 101.3 degrees F. Heart rate was normal at 120 beats per minute. Respiration rate was high at 100 breaths per minute. Mucous membranes were pink and moist. Capillary refill time was less than 2 seconds. There was no suckle reflex present and she was not clinically dehydrated. Her heart and lungs sounded apparently normal.
When sat into sternal (on her chest), her right eye was not tracking as well as her left eye. The left eye had a slight horizontal nystagmus (eye moving back and forth).
The front legs were stiff. When we tried to stand her up, she was tipping to the right and had no proprioception (knowing where her feet were).
She was started on IV fluids with dextrose, given dexamethasone (a steroid to decrease inflammation) and penicillin (an antibiotic) with a poor prognosis.
Differentials included: rabies, bacterial meningitis and brain abscess.
Night 1: Unchanged. No feces, no urine. Administered penicillin.
Day 2: Slight improvements. She was now able to sit sternal but still unable to stand.
Temperature was normal at 101 F. No feces. She remained on slow drip IV fluids and was tubed with small amount of milk replacer to see if she would have a bowel movement. Administered dexamethasone and penicillin.
Night 2: Started open mouth breathing with her head extended up over her back. Heart and lungs still auscultated apparently normal (no pneumonia). No feces still. Administered penicillin.
Day 3: Had normal feces. Urine had a red tint to it. Laterally recumbent. She had pulled the IV catheter out overnight. Plan to euthanize and send whole body for necropsy at the lab.
Necropsy: The meninges (tissue around the brain) and the brain itself were swollen without inflammation. Mild yeast-odor in abomasum. Some segments of the intestine were mildly inflamed.
Microscopic exam: There was inflammation around the brain, in the abomasum and in the intestines with no apparent cause. No other lesions were present in the lungs, liver, kidneys, heart, spleen nor lymph nodes.
Testing: Rabies was negative. Abomasum culture showed no clostridium perfringens.
Brain, lung, liver, kidney, intestine, abomasum, spleen testing found no pathogen isolated.
Brain, listeria negative. Feces, no parasites. Spleen, Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (EHDV) negative.
Liver mineral analysis showed copper slightly high, molybdenum slightly low.
Cause of death: Unknown.
Conclusion: Welcome to a day in veterinary medicine. Sometimes, we do all we can to treat an animal and it still dies. Then we do all we can to diagnose the cause of death, and come back empty handed.
The important thing with this case was that no other calves were affected and that the calf was rabies negative. Hopefully we will never see another one like this in our careers.
Thank you so much to the producer for letting us share this case.
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