Clostridial Disease In Cattle

Clostridial disease is often well prevented in sheep by vaccination, but cattle are also susceptible. Read about the different types of clostridial disease in cattle, how they can be prevented and treated.

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Clostridial disease is often well prevented in sheep by vaccination, but cattle are also susceptible.

Clostridial bacteria are widely found in the environment, particularly in soil. They enter the body typically through wounds (no matter how small) and once inside, rapidly multiply and produce toxins. Different diseases are caused by the different subspecies of clostridia and the different toxins that each one produces.

Types Of Clostridial Diseases

Black’s Disease

This is typically seen in late summer/early autumn and is related to the migration of liver fluke through the liver – the clostridial bacteria thrive in the areas of damage caused by the fluke. Animals of all ages are affected, and unfortunately are often suddenly found dead.

It can be prevented by using flukicides and clostridial vaccination.


Probably one of the best-known clostridial diseases. The bacteria often enter the animal via wounds or contaminated injection equipment, but ingestion of spores in soil-contaminated feed can lead to spores being seeded via the blood into muscles. The spores then activate when the muscles are damaged by trauma (e.g. slips and falls). Blackleg can be more common when animals graze wet, disturbed ground or soil-contaminated forage.

Again, affected animals are often found dead, but if still alive they will look dull and depressed with a very high temperature, and often will be lame on one leg which may appear swollen (due to gas produced by the bacteria in the muscle).

Treatment can be attempted (high dose penicillin) but is often ineffective in all but the very earliest of cases. Vaccination is by far the best protection against this disease.

Malignant Oedema

Another clostridial disease causing sudden death, often caused by contaminated injections.


Cattle are typically infected through contamination of wounds with soil containing infective bacterial spores. The tetanus bacteria then multiply and produce a powerful neurotoxin, leading to muscle spasm and stiffness.

Animals often have a startled expression, walk stiffly and may be unable to open their mouths. As the disease progresses the animal becomes more and more debilitated and eventually dies as the respiratory muscles become paralysed.

Again, vaccination is recommended to prevent this disease.


Most recent botulism cases have been associated with the spreading of poultry litter onto pasture and bird carcasses accidentally incorporated into silage clamps.

Initially signs include progressive muscle weakness involving the legs, head and neck, with affected cattle struggling to chew and swallow due to paralysis of the tongue.

There is no effective treatment of botulism, and unfortunately most multivalent clostridial vaccines do not cover against it either.

Preventing Clostridial Diseases


Multivalent clostridial vaccines (protecting against more than one type of clostridia) are cheap and extremely effective. Given how widespread clostridia are in the environment, we would always recommend using them, especially in youngstock. Speak to your vet to find out which one would be most suitable for you.

Other Precautions

Use clean needles and syringes when injecting cattle, and always inject in a clean area to minimise the risk of introducing bacteria under the skin and into the muscle.

Keep cattle away from recent earth works or highly poached ground (if possible) to reduce the chances of contamination with infected soil.

If you have any concerns about your pet, please contact your local practice to book an appointment.

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