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Depending on where your cattle are located a number of different conditions can cause inflamed, irritated or scaly skin, hair loss, changes in pigmentation of the coat or skin or visible growths. Learn about the different types, their symptoms and treatment.

Skin lesions

Conditions that cause inflamed, irritated or scaly skin, hair loss, changes in pigmentation of the coat or skin or visible growths. Where are the cattle located?

Subtropical or tropical region of Australia

Gippsland, South West VIC or South Coast NSW

Other areas of Australia

  • Buffalo Fly

    Buffalo fly

    What to look for

    • Signs vary with the number of flies and the sensitivity of animal
    • Skin irritation
    • Heavily infested cattle try to dislodge the flies by rubbing against trees, posts or buildings
    • Constant rubbing may lead to hair loss and skin abrasions
    • Damaged skin can become infected or attract other flies

    Cause - a blood sucking fly

    Buffalo fly is widespread in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of Australia. Adult buffalo flies spend their lives on cattle and survive by sucking blood from their hosts. Female flies lay eggs around the edges of fresh cow pats. These eggs hatch and the larvae move into the manure where they develop into adult buffalo flies. Fly numbers build up in spring and summer.

    Animals likely to be affected

    Cattle of any age.

    Other diseases with similar signs

    Skin lesions may be confused with other causes of skin irritation.

    Confirming the diagnosis

    Buffalo flies are easily identified, but if in doubt catch several flies and show them to a neighbour or local vet. It is important to distinguish them from screw-worm fly, which is not currently present in Australia, but occurs in tropical countries to our north. Screw-worm fly differs from buffalo fly as it burrows into the flesh of animals and results in wounds containing large numbers of maggots. IF YOU SEE UNUSUAL FLY INFESTATIONS NOTIFY YOUR VET.

    Spread of the disease

    Buffalo flies can readily spread within a mob, over a fence or from introduced animals.

    Risks to people

    Buffalo flies sometimes bite people but are not known to transmit any infectious diseases.

    Treatment

    A number of chemicals are effective against buffalo fly and can be applied via ear tags, pour-ons or sprays. Manufacturers withholding periods must be observed to avoid chemical residues in dairy products. Buffalo flies may become resistant to a particular product if it is used frequently.

    To reduce the build-up of resistance chemical use should be limited to periods when fly numbers are very high, and insecticides should be changed periodically.

    Plans are available on the internet for a buffalo fly trap that removes flies from cattle, then traps and destroys them. To be successful, cows must pass through the trap several times a day.

    Further reading

    www.mla.com.au Tips and Tools, Animal Health and Welfare 

  • Cattle ticks

    Babesiosis (tick fever)

    Tick fever occurs only where cattle ticks are found, in the subtropical and tropical regions of Australia. Cattle ticks should not be confused with bush ticks which are found over a much wider area. There are several forms of œtick fever. The disease discussed here is caused by organism called Babesia bovis and Babesia bigemina. Anaplasmosis is another important œtick fever caused by an organism called Anaplasma.

    What to look for

    Signs range from minimal illness to severe disease and death:

    • Red urine (œredwater) 
    • High fever and a drop in milk production 
    • Nervous signs 
    • Diarrhoea
    • Anaemia and jaundice

    Cause -“ infection with a protozoan organism

    Babesia must complete part of their life cycle outside cattle, and are transmitted from animal to animal by cattle ticks (especially Rhiphicephilus microplus). Adult ticks draw in Babesia organisms when sucking blood from cows. The ticks then drop off the cow and lay eggs which hatch in the environment. Immature ticks harbour Babesia organisms in their salivary glands ready to be injected when they start to suck blood from a cow. Once injected into cattle they multiply inside red blood cells and then burst out of the cells. If this process continues for some time animals can become anaemic. Cows usually start to show signs of illness 2 weeks after they become infected. Cows can remain infected with Babesia for several years.

    Animals likely to be affected

    Tick fever is unusual in animals under 9 months of age. British breeds of cattle are more likely to be infected than Bos indicus breeds.

    Other diseases with similar signs

    In sub-tropical regions tick fever can be confused with other conditions that cause depression and red water, for example, copper poisoning, bracken fern and other plant poisonings. While anaplasmosis may resemble tick fever, affected animals rarely have blood in their urine.

    Confirming the diagnosis

    Examination of blood smears in a laboratory

    Treatment

    Your vet can prescribe drugs that treat sick animals and also provide protection for several weeks.

    Prevention

    The 3 main approaches to controlling the impact of tick fever:

    • Control tick numbers
    • Expose young animals to tick fever organisms when they are less than nine months of age. These animals are unlikely to show clinical signs of infection and can be expected to remain immune for several years.
    • Vaccination. Some animals may have a bad reaction 1-3 weeks after vaccination so observe recently vaccinated animals closely and promptly treat any that show signs of disease.

  • Facial eczema

    Facial eczema

    What to look for

    • A sudden drop in milk production
    • Photosensitisation occurs about 10 days later when the skin becomes irritated
    • Cows will be restless and seek shade, lick affected areas and rub skin raw against hard surfaces
    • Weight loss due to liver damage
    • May develop diarrhoea

    Cause -“ a liver toxin from pasture fungus (Pithomyces chartarum)

    Animals ingest the toxin (sporidesmin) produced by a fungus that grows on moist, dead grass. This fungus is relatively widespread in dairy areas in Victoria but only grows under very specific conditions. Facial eczema only occurs when the climatic conditions are suitable for rapid proliferation and production of large numbers of toxic spores.

    Animals likely to be affected

    Lactating dairy cows. It is usually seen in autumn with small outbreaks occurring in Gippsland and, less frequently in other districts.

    Other diseases with similar signs

    Liver damage and photosensitisation caused by toxins from other plants such as perennial ryegrass, brassica crops and St John's Wort.

    Confirming the diagnosis

    Usually based on the clinical signs and high toxic spore counts in pasture. Blood tests can be used to confirm liver damage, and if an animal dies, post mortem examination of the liver will show characteristic changes.

    Treatment

    Once the animal has liver damage there is no specific treatment, but the severity of the disease can be reduced by keeping animals in shade during the day and supporting them with anti-inflammatories, pain relief, good nursing, food and water. Most affected animals will recover but are likely to have reduced milk production. In some cases, the liver damage will be too severe for full recovery and these animals will be vulnerable to future outbreaks.

    Risk factors

    • Climatic conditions when the toxic fungus is likely to multiply to dangerous levels - a succession of moist warm evenings in autumn
    • Animals grazing pasture containing a substantial amount of dead material
    • Previous exposure to toxins that cause liver damage

    Prevention

    Pasture spore monitoring is indicated when conditions are favourable for fungal production of sporedesmin. If pasture spore counts identify dangerous conditions, keep animals out of pastures that contain high levels of moist dead pasture. For further information please consult Dairy Australia'™s technical resources on Facial Eczema. 

    More information

    Visit our facial eczema monitoring pages

  • Lice

    Lice

    What to look for

    • Skin irritation - animals rubbing against trees or fence posts
    • Patches of bare skin where hair is rubbed off

    Cause - sucking or biting lice

    Several different types of lice occur in Australia and range from 1-5mm in length. Lice spend nearly all their time on the skin of their host species and can only survive away from their host for a short period. Lice reach their highest numbers in winter. High temperatures in summer cause a rapid decline in numbers. Self grooming can reduce lice numbers, so more lice are found in body areas that are difficult for a cow to reach with her tongue e.g. the neck.

    Animals likely to be affected

    All ages of animals are susceptible but young, poorly fed animals are likely to be the most heavily infested. Lice are more visible in white areas of the coat.

    Risk factors

    • Young stock
    • Poor nutrition
    • Underlying disease

    Spread of the disease

    Close animal-to-animal contact with other cattle. Cattle lice do not infest other animals.

    Risks to people

    Nil.

    Treatment

    Insecticides - pour-on, injection, ear tag or sprays. Treatment will improve animal comfort and appearance and help reduce hide damage.

    Prevention

    Prevention of lice build-up is most effectively achieved by maintaining animals in good condition and by strategic treatment in autumn or early winter. It may be necessary to treat twice to prevent reinfestation from lice eggs. 

  • Mange

    Mange

    What to look for

    • Rubbing and skin damage around base of tail and along the back
    • Nodules under the skin

    Cause - mite infestations

    Chorioptic mange mite (Chorioptes bovis) and Demodectic mange mite (Demodex bovis) are the most common types. The mites that cause mange live their entire lives in or on the skin. Chorioptic mange mites live on the skin around the base of the tail and along the back or down the backside of the cow. Demodectic mange mites live in the hair follicles but rarely cause clinical disease. In severe cases, the hides of slaughtered cattle may be downgraded due to nodules under the skin.

    Animals likely to be affected

    In Australia mange in cattle is usually a very mild disease. Any class of animals can be infested with manage mites but, generally, the signs of skin irritation and damage are mild and confined to a small number of animals.

    Other diseases with similar signs

    Skin disease such as lice or photosensitisation.

    Confirming the diagnosis

    Microscopic examination of skin scrapings can be used to identify mange mites.

    Spread of the disease

    Close animal-animal contact. Demodectic mites are thought to be transmitted from cows to their calves in the first few days of life. Mites may be transferred between animals on grooming tools.

    Risks to people

    Mange mites that occur on cattle in Australia do not pose any risks to people.

    Treatment

    Treatment with insecticides is possible but rarely necessary.

    Prevention

    Ensure that grooming tools are thoroughly cleaned between animals. Check purchased animals for skin damage to ensure they are free of disease.  

  • Ringworm

    Ringworm

    What to look for

    • Crusty skin lesions that start as small scaly patches and slowly enlarge
    • Most often seen on the head and neck
    • Lesions persist for several months then heal completely
    • In very thin or diseased animals the ringworm scabs may persist longer

    Cause - a fungal infection (usually Trichophyton verrucosum)

    The fungus is very widespread and produces spores that persist in the environment for years, providing a source of infection for the next generation of animals. Spores can also persist on the hair of cattle that do not develop any signs of disease.

    Animals likely to be affected

    Most often seen in younger animals. Ringworm may occur at the same time as lice infestation, which thrives under similar circumstances.

    Other diseases with similar signs

    Ringworm is usually fairly distinctive and a diagnosis can be based on the history of the outbreak and the appearance of the characteristic skin changes. However, it is useful to remember that under some circumstances, ringworm might be confused with mange, dermatophilosis or even early stages of warts.

    Confirming the diagnosis

    If the diagnosis is in doubt your vet can take a sample of hair and skin and examine it under a microscope to demonstrate the causative fungus.

    How it spreads

    Animals become infected with fungal spores that are picked up from other animals or from rubbing on fences, trees, buildings and other inanimate objects.

    Risks to people

    People can be infected with cattle ringworm and so it is important to pay attention to personal hygiene when handling infected animals.

    Treatment

    Ringworm usually clears up in one to two months without any treatment. If you are particularly concerned because of a planned sale or appearance at a cattle show it is possible to clean up the infected area and apply topical anti-fungal treatments.

    Prevention

    The extent of an outbreak may be reduced by isolating infected animals.  

  • Warts

    Warts

      

    What to look for

    • Hard crusty lesions on the skin 
    • Commonly on the head, neck and shoulders
    • Vary greatly in size
    • May become infected
    • Can be painful if occur on teats of cows or the penis of bulls

    Caused by

    A viral infection (Bovine Papilloma Virus).

    Animals likely to be affected

    More commonly seen on animals less than 2 years of age but can occur at any age.

    Other diseases with similar signs

    Other skin diseases of cattle including ringworm, photosensitisation or dermatophilosis. Animals with warts may also suffer from ringworm at the same time.

    How it is spread

    Wart viruses are very resistant to drying and disinfectants and so persist on cattle and in their environment. They are spread by contact with infected animals. The virus enters the body through small breaks in the skin. On occasion the disease may be spread by needles or ear tagging instruments if used for successive animals without thorough cleaning.

    Risks to people

    Warts in people are caused by a different virus and bovine warts do not represent a public health risk.

    Treatment

    While warts may be unsightly they cause little harm and there is no need to treat warts unless the location is causing pain e.g. warts on teats of lactating cows or on the penis of working bulls. Supportive treatment with topical antiseptics may be useful if the warts are ulcerated or bleeding. In some cases it may be desirable to remove the warts surgically. Bovine warts usually resolve within a month or two but sometimes last longer.



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