High chances of disease in cattle and significant productivity loss if cattle producers do not have a plan to control lungworm in place.
Up to 45% of cattle producers do not have a plan to control lungworm in their herd this summer. This could potentially lead to high levels of disease in cattle and significant productivity losses.
In two recent Facebook polls run by Farmers Guardian*, 40% and 45% of respondents said they did not have a plan to control lungworm in their herd this season.
Nicky Bowden, ruminant veterinary advisor on antiparasitics at Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, the company behind the Beat the Parasites campaign says: “This is very concerning.
“July marks the start of the typical lungworm season, and recent warm, wet weather will have provided ideal conditions for the parasite to infect grazing cattle. The lungworm parasite can multiply rapidly in optimal conditions and is capable of causing severe disease and subsequent production losses.”
Heavy worm burdens can establish quickly on the pasture. A low dose challenge with around 200 larvae can lead to approximately 70 adult worms, which can result in 2.5 million infective larvae returning to the pasture by 30 days after ingestion (1).
“Cattle producers need to have a plan to prevent or manage disease outbreaks,” says Mrs Bowden.
Another Farmers Guardian Facebook poll* indicated 60% of cattle producers had vaccinated their heifers against lungworm this year.
Vaccination before turnout or low-level exposure at grass can give cattle some immunity against lungworm. However, this can be short-lived. Natural boosting of immunity is needed during the grazing season by low-level exposure to the parasite. If this does not occur, animals may be susceptible to disease when larvae populations on the pasture rapidly increase.
Mrs Bowden warns there has been an increase in lungworm cases in adult cattle, so producers must not be complacent. “Unvaccinated, naïve youngstock as well as adult cattle experiencing a high challenge from lungworm, are all at risk of acute disease.”
Adding to the risk, up to 10% of cattle could be subclinical carriers of lungworm (2).
“Without appropriate worm treatments these carrier animals will contribute low numbers of larvae to the pasture, increase overall pasture contamination, and pose a risk to the rest of the herd,” says Mrs Bowden.
The impact of lungworm infections can be significant.
Lungworm can lead to losses of up to £137 per animal (3) but these can be considerably higher. In severe cases, lungworm can be fatal, so the cost of disposal and replacements adds to the overall bill.
Direct financial losses come from reduced milk yield and increased veterinary costs, while reduced fertility and increased susceptibility to other diseases can render an animal less productive for the remainder of its life.
“Any coughing in cattle at grass should be investigated as a potential sign of lungworm,” says Mrs Bowden.
“Other respiratory diseases such as Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR) can also cause coughing, particularly in older cattle. It is therefore vital to investigate, identify and treat the disease early, to minimise the long-term impact.”
Signs of lungworm infection can include:
Strategic worming programmes often used in youngstock to control intestinal worms including gutworm (Ostertagia ostertagi), can also be effective at preventing lungworm disease, while allowing some immunity to build up.
A targeted approach is more often used in adult cattle. Here, treatments are administered in response to early signs of disease. For this approach to be effective, early diagnosis by the farm’s vet is essential to ensure treatment is prompt, and full-blown outbreaks are prevented.
Treatment of the whole herd is necessary once lungworm is diagnosed, as not all affected animals will demonstrate clinical signs, but will still suffer from reduced performance.
Wormers such as Ivomec® Classic (containing ivermectin) which are used to treat intestinal parasites will also treat lungworm. While zero-milk withhold wormers such as Eprinex® (containing eprinomectin) can be used to treat lactating dairy cows, and ensure no loss in milk sales.
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1. Vercruysse J, et al. (1989) Dictyocaulosis. Worms and Worm Diseases Samson Stafleu, Alphen aan den Rijn/Brussel, pp 210-222
2. Eysker M, et al. (1994) The prevalence of patent lungworm infection in herds of dairy cows in the Netherlands. Veterinary Parasitology 53 (3-4) 263-267
3. Holzhauer et al. (2011) Lungworm outbreaks in adult dairy cows: estimating economic losses and lessons to be learned. Veterinary Record. 169:494-497.
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