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Treat ’em early, treat ’em right

As I sat in the waiting room of a hospital (human, not veterinary), I was mulling over timely topics for Cattlemen. I had a lot of time on my hands as my father was scheduled for an eight-hour surgery to remove a squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer) from his ear.

White-faced cattle also get this type of cancer; we commonly call it cancer eye. Cancer eye in cattle, like skin cancer in people, is best treated early. Had my father looked into his tumour sooner, the surgery would have been much simpler. The same is true for cattle.

In times of low commodity prices and high production costs a rancher might be tempted to ignore a runny eye, but it is not prudent. When you have a cow with a sore eye, take the time and get a hold of her. Take a close look. Use the normal eye as a comparison if you are unsure if something is normal or not. If there is a growth, it could be cancer and it should be removed before it gets worse.

If caught early, squamous cell tumours are easily removed surgically. When caught very early, they can even sometimes successfully be removed by cryosurgery (freezing the mass with liquid nitrogen), avoiding the need for conventional surgery. The longer the tumour is left untreated, the more it invades the local tissue. As a result the surgery will be more difficult and the chance of a successful outcome decreased.

There is no good reason not to examine the eye. Even if it is just pinkeye, treat before the bug (Moraxella bovis) spreads. Treating one animal for pinkeye is easier and cheaper than treating an entire herd. Pinkeye causes corneal ulcers, which are sensitive
to light and quite painful. Remember that the presence of a corneal ulcer does not guarantee that you are dealing with pinkeye: small tumours or a foreign bodies rubbing on the eye can also cause ulcers. Roll back the eyelids and examine the area closely.

In my practice we treated the pinkeye with a sub-conjunctival (beneath the eyelid) injection of antibiotics and temporarily sutured the eyelids closed to protect the eye from the bright Manitoba sun. Don’t forget that pinkeye is contagious; after treating an infected animal clean your hands and equipment.

In keeping with my theme, let’s talk a little about another big summertime problem: foot rot. I had one producer treat his mature Simmental bull with penicil-lin. The bull did not respond to the medicine. It turns out the owner was treating a 2,400-pound bull with 12cc of penicillin. It was the right medicine but the wrong dose.

Just as with eyes, proper examination of the foot is essential. Many animals that were not responding to treatment were brought into the veterinary clinic. Here we were able to restrain them on our tip table and adequately examine the foot. The worst thing I personally ever removed from a foot was a six-inch spike that had gone up through the sole of the hoof.

Moral of the story: treat early with the correct treatment. Not all runny eyes are pinkeye and not all limping animals have foot rot. We get cracked hooves, sole abscesses, corns, injuries, nails and other foreign bodies in the hoof or between the toes. The foreign bodies need to come out, the cracks and the sole abscesses require trimming. Foot rot needs the correct antibiotic in the correct dose and it needs to be given before the infection gets deep into the bone or joints.

The ultimate in early treatment is prevention. For some diseases there is no treatment. Prevention is the only option. The first sign of blackleg is often dead calves scattered around the pasture. In my experience blackleg starts with the good calves, the very best. We aren’t going to successfully treat blackleg very often, but there is an inexpensive blackleg (clostridial) vaccine that is very effective at preventing death loss from these bacterial organisms. Treat them early and treat them right.

In these tough economic times it is tempting to try to save money by cutting corners, but this is poor stockmanship. It is just as important now as it is when cattle are profitable to make sure you have the correct diagnosis and treatment for your livestock.

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