Livestock producers on pinkeye alert

The Hunter Local Land Services District Veterinarian team have been seeing unusually high numbers of severe “pinkeye” across the region recently. Pinkeye, blight or Infectious Bovine Keratoconjuntivitis (IBK) is an eye infection seen in cattle and is a complex, multi-factorial disease.

Jim Kerr, Hunter LLS District Veterinarian said, “The disease is an important consideration for producers at this time of year, both in terms of its negative animal welfare outcomes and the costs involved with treatments and lost production.

Signs of the disease in cattle include:

  • Increased tear production – cattle may exhibit a wet or dirty stain down the side of their face
  • Increased sensitivity to sunlight (blinking a lot or holding eyes closed)
  • The cornea (eye ball) may become cloudy or bluish and a white or pink spot or ulcer may appear in the centre of the eye
  • In severe cases the ulcer may progress to affect the whole eye, including the inner chamber, with the worst outcome being rupture of the eyeball
  • Affected animals may become temporarily or in some cases permanently blind.

Bacteria can be shed in secretions from the eyes and nose of affected animals and may be transmitted to other animals by flies. There are a number of factors which can predispose cattle to pinkeye including:

  • High fly numbers
  • Commingling
  • Dusty conditions
  • Bright sunlight (UV radiation damages the surface of the cornea)
  • Grass seeds/thistles which can cause physical damage to the eye
  • Copper and/or selenium deficiency
  • Reduced immune system function
  • Conformation – unpigmented eyelids and protruding eyes
  • Stress

Cattle with active pinkeye infections (i.e. where the eye is still streaming, cornea is still ulcerated etc) should not be sent to saleyards, as they are very infectious. There is no better way to rapidly spread the infection far and wide than to send infected cattle to saleyards. Under the Biosecurity Act, livestock owners have a General Biosecurity Duty (GBD) not to knowingly or recklessly spread diseases or pests.Owners who send cattle to saleyards with active pinkeye lesions are clearly breaching their GBD. Moreover, cattle badly affected by pinkeye, particularly if it is severely affecting vision in both eyes, may be breaching the ‘fit-to-load’ guidelines.

Bos taurus (British and European) cattle breeds are much more susceptible to pinkeye infection than Bos indicus animals and their derivatives (crossbred or composite animals).

Jim continued, “Treatment of pinkeye should be commenced as early as possible to minimise adverse animal welfare outcomes and to decrease the number of infective bacteria in the herd and limit the spread.

“A single dose vaccination is available to assist with minimising the impacts of pinkeye infection in herds and may be given at the same time as 5-in-1 or 7-in-1 vaccines.

“It is recommended that the vaccine be given 3-6 weeks prior to the onset of the pinkeye season and it can be given to calves from as young as 2 weeks of age, with a booster every 12 months recommended,” James said.

Suitable treatments for pink eye include;

  • Antibiotic eye cream and an eye patch (nil WHP/ESI) or
  • Long-acting Intramuscular antibiotics (ie oxytetracycline) and an eye patch (WHP/ESI applies).
  • An injection of an anti-inflammatory to reduce pain is a valuable addition. The producer will need a bona fide relationship with their private veterinarian to obtain all of the medications.
  • Fly control is crucial to reduce further damage to the eye by flies and spread of bacteria to other cattle (cattle pour on insecticides, ear tags etc).
  • If you are unable to obtain antibiotic treatments straight away, an eye patch alone can be curative as it reduces the eye’s exposure to damaging UV radiation and biting flies. So please at least patch and monitor the eye and apply fly control treatments to the herd until you can secure a suitable antibiotic cream or injection. Eye patches are available from rural stores or you can fashion a home-made eye patch, suitably tented, so the material doesn’t rub on the eyeball.

You can read more about pinkeye signs, symptoms and treatment here or in the NSW Department of Primary Industries Prime Fact.

For more information on pinkeye prevention, treatment or vaccination programs contact your private veterinarian or contact the Hunter Local Land Services District Veterinarians on 1300 795 299.

Related news

Related information