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Symptoms and treatment for cows with unusual gait, stiff movements or tender feet.

Lameness or difficulty moving

Conditions that cause unusual gait, stiff movements or tender feet could be hoof abscess, injury or white line disease.

Additional issues to check for:

A single animal

Several animals


What to look for - ranges from serious acute disease to milder chronic form.

Acute acidosis

  • Usually within 1 day of carbohydrate overload
  • May stop eating
  • May appear depressed
  • May be unstable if standing
  • Rumen is often distended (on left side)
  • Tapping left flank may produce splashing sounds
  • May have profuse diarrhoea with an offensive smell
  • May become dehydrated, lie down, and without prompt treatment, are likely to die

Chronic acidosis

  • Usually a herd problem
  • Vague clinical signs Loss of appetite
  • Intermittent diarrhoea
  • Lower milk production
  • Depression


Excess amounts of carbohydrate-rich foods such as grains or fruit. Rumen function is overloaded leading to increased acid in the rumen. Milder forms have a slower onset, but if not managed can lead to long term changes to the rumen.

Animals likely to be affected

Often seen in cows in early lactation. Typically seen after calving, especially in cows that have been fed on pasture during the dry period and the rumen has not had time to adapt to concentrate feeds.

Other diseases with similar signs

Confirming the diagnosis

  • Recent increase in consumption of grain or fruit
  • Test rumen fluid acidity (pH)


Serious cases of acidosis need rapid treatment. In severe cases your vet can operate to remove the rumen contents and provide other supportive treatments to help get the rumen operating again and prevent infection.

Less severe cases may respond to treatment with magnesium products given by stomach tube. Afterwards it is important to feed good quality hay and ensure that animals do not have access to water until the next day.

Animals that have mild acidosis should be fed good quality hay and reduced amounts of concentrates. Watch them closely to ensure that any animals that are not improving can be treated more intensively.

Risk factors

  • High carbohydrate feeds are not stored securely
  • Cattle introduced rapidly to diets containing high proportion of concentrates


When introducing cattle to concentrates monitor them closely and check the consistency of their manure.



What to look for

  • Stiff movement
  • Over-reaction to sudden sounds or movements
  • Muscle spasms
  • Sudden death

Cause - a bacterial infection (Clostridium tetani)

This organism is widespread in the environment but only rarely causes disease in cattle. Tetanus usually occurs when an animal has had a penetrating wound, has been castrated or tail docked, or had a difficult calving. It can take days to weeks from receiving the original wound until the appearance of tetanus. The tetanus organism must enter the wound and be sealed off from the air before it can multiply. It then produces a powerful toxin that targets the nerves responsible for muscle movements.

Animals likely to be affected

Cattle of any age.

Other diseases with similar signs

Other diseases that cause sudden death. Young animals seen in the early stages of the disease might show similar signs to animals with polioencephalomalacia.

Confirming the diagnosis

The tetanic muscle spasms are usually characteristic enough to diagnose tetanus especially if there is a history of a deep wound in the last few weeks.

Spread of the disease

The disease does not spread from animal to animal but sometimes a number of animals may develop tetanus at the same time. This is usually because the animals have become infected at the same time following a procedure such as castration.

Risks to people

Take care when handling animals that are experiencing muscle spasms. People cannot get tetanus from direct contact with cattle, but are susceptible to infection with the tetanus organism through a penetrating wound. It is also important for all people that handle livestock to make sure that their tetanus vaccinations are up to date.


If animals are seen early in the course of the disease and are particularly valuable, your vet may administer an antitoxin and recommend other measures that will save some animals. Treatment is not effective if animals are in an advanced stage of the disease.


Ensure that all calves are protected against tetanus with a clostridial vaccine (5 in 1, 7 in 1 or 8 in 1). Use high levels of hygiene when performing procedures such as castration and dehorning.  


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