Electrolytes are our best bet when treating scours be-cause it is the dehydration and/or acidosis that kills calves first.
It’s important for producers who use this important tool to recognize the severity of the scours, either by how dehydrated or how acidotic (depressed) the calf is.
Calves are dehydrated if skin that is twisted in the neck area tents and is slow to slip back.
However, the most accurate met-hod is to determine if the eyeballs are recessed into the head. We often have to roll the eyelids back a bit to visualize this recession.
Calves are severely dehydrated (eight to 10 percent) if the eyeballs are obviously recessed, and a calf that reaches 12 percent dehydrated is near death.
Acidotic calves will usually have varying degrees of depression and may or may not be very dehydrated. They will often have a drunken stupor, and those with advanced acidosis will go down and can’t get up.
Calves that they are laying flat on their side are severely acidotic.
Acidosis is a complicated process, but basically calves end up with too much acid in their bloodstream.
Both true scours (diarrhea) and severe acidosis require veterinary intervention and intravenous fluids. Oral electrolytes will return many calves to normal function if administered quickly enough, so when in doubt, give electrolytes. They are not that costly, are easy to administer and the responses can be dramatic.
Many electrolytes are on the market but some products are inferior. They require a sufficient amount of sodium because calves lose a lot of the mineral when they have diarrhea.
Electrolyte products also need to have glucose as an energy source and acetate or bicarbonate to keep the gut’s pH levels normal.
Talk to your veterinarian because they have access to the best ones on the market.
An American veterinarian who compared various electrolyte products said the best was Calflyte & Calflyte II, which is available only in Canada.
Do not use home remedies for electrolytes because they can lead to electrolyte imbalances and salt poisoning.
The commercial products are packaged well and come in sizes, such as packets, buckets and pails, that are big enough to economically accommodate multiple feedings. They come with measuring devices, and the directions should be followed.
They can also be resealed because it is important to keep them dry and uncontaminated between uses or between calving seasons.
Electrolytes have an expiry date, so watch for that.
Follow the instructions for the amount of water to add and use lukewarm water. Calves should suck the liquid, but a tube feeder can be used for those that are too weak.
One to two litres per treatment are recommended, and they should be administered up to four times a day.
A 10 percent dehydrated calf needs four litres of water just to bring it to normal levels, and that doesn’t include the extra fluid it needs for daily maintenance.
The last thing you want to do is spread disease from calf to calf, so disinfect the feeding tube or nipple as well as bag or bottle between treatments or when treating more than one sick calf.
Use a safe disinfectant such as virkon. The disinfectant must contact the surface for at least 10 minutes, so clean the drencher, rinse and let it soak in the disinfectant. I keep an extra tube or nipple soaking at all times when treating more than one calf.
Have a different tube feeder for non-scouring calves, use boot dips, and change and wash coveralls often because they are likely to be the source of spreading infection on farms. Move from calving cows with clean coveralls to the sick calves, rather than the other way around.
Try not to leave calves until they are almost comatose or severely dehydrated. When in doubt, give oral electrolytes. Any calf that has any amount of diarrhea will benefit from oral fluids.
Withdraw milk for a maximum of half a day and maintain the electrolytes until diarrhea has stopped.
Roy Lewis works as a technical services veterinarian part time with Merck Animal Health in Alberta.