Why Oral Rehydration Therapy is Important for Raising Healthy Calves

Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT) is an important aid for raising healthy calves and is critical when combating outbreaks of scour and other diseases. A good product is much more than just salt and water and choosing the right product and using it correctly will save lives and improve productivity.

Scour is common in young calves and a significant cause of mortality. Viruses, such as Rotavirus, are a major cause with bacterial infections less common. Scour can also be triggered by feeding practices, such as milk replacers fed at the wrong temperature or concentration, or irregular feeding patterns.

An adequate feed of high-quality colostrum at birth is vital to help prevent scour, providing passive immunity to combat infections. Vaccination against the common viruses is widely practiced, but vaccination of the cow will only help if calf gets colostrum. Equally important is good hygiene and a suitable feeding protocol.

Despite good prevention, outbreaks of diarrhoea or scour are frequent so early effective treatment is crucial to minimising the impact on the herd and farm profitability. Except in those infrequent cases where a pathogenic bacteria has been identified, antibiotics are of no use and should not be used. Combatting the effects is all about supporting the calf and countering the problems caused by the diarrhoea, and oral rehydration formulas are central to this.

The key problems encountered are dehydration and loss of electrolytes. In addition, there is often a build up of acid in the tissues, known as acidosis.

The loss of fluid in diarrhoea is the most significant (and visible) problem and will lead to the calf becoming dehydrated. This can happen very quickly, and the earlier steps are taken the better the outcome. A dehydrated calf can have sunken eyes, dry mucous membranes around the mouth and eyes and the skin can stay tented when pinched. It’s much better to act before these signs show. If untreated the calf can become depressed, unable to stand or feed and decline rapidly. These cases will need prompt veterinary treatment and intravenous fluids. It’s obviously better to prevent things getting to this stage so early use of electrolytes is beneficial when first signs are seen.

Water by itself is insufficient to correct the dehydration and it’s also necessary to replace electrolytes and correct the acidosis. That is why a good quality Oral Rehydration Formula is so essential. These contain constituents that work together to support the calves including: –

  • Sodium. This is a vital electrolyte, and large quantities are lost in the diarrhoea. In addition, as it is absorbed into the gut it helps to draw water across, speeding up rehydration.
  • Potassium and Chloride. Two more key electrolytes.
  • Glucose (also called dextrose.) This provides valuable energy for the calf at a time when milk feeding can be reduced. In addition, they also help the absorption of sodium and therefore water from the gut.
  • Alkalising agent, for example Acetate. This helps to counteract the build-up of acid that cause the acidosis.

Fresh Start Recover Plus+ also contains the added benefits of

  • Psyllium, a gelling agent to help slow the passage of fluid through the gut and allow for better nutrient absorption
  • B vitamins, to help support production when it is needed most
  • Probiotics, to help support repopulation of a healthy gut microbe population.

Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT) should be started at the first sign of diarrhoea following the instructions on the product and continued for at least 2 days. It used to be common practice to withhold milk during this time but there is no evidence that milk make the diarrhoea worse, and milk will continue to provide the calf energy. It is best to give the ORT at different times of the day than feeding milk. Fresh water should always be available.

If the calf’s condition continues to deteriorate or does not improve in a reasonable time, then veterinary attention should be sort.

Fresh Start Recover Plus+ is an easy to prepare premium oral rehydration formula to help support calf recovery. It contains everything essential to help support calf recovery during and after digestive disturbance. It’s Highly effective, economically viable and easy to administer on farm.

Fresh Start Recover Plus+

25th March 2021

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