Cows should be vaccinated with a C and D product before calving, and calves at about a month of age. If a herd still experiences problems, Type A vaccine can be added to the program.

If cases occur in calves four weeks or older, they should be vaccinated with a Type C and A product. “I would be especially concerned about Type A, if calves are still having problems at a month or older,” Songer says.

Callan says more veterinarians and producers are using Type A vaccine and feel it helps. Some cases are caused by Type E, however, for which there is no vaccine, he warns.

Autogenous products created from pathology workups on deceased calves are another option. “Some producers have good luck with that approach. Labs can use cultures and generate their own vaccine for a specific organism,” Meyring says.

Thoughts on treatment

When it comes to treatment, the challenge is finding the calf in time. “Many treatments recommended for toxic gut infection are extra-label uses. Producers should discuss treatment with their veterinarian,” Callan says.

Many treatments have been used with success, he adds. “Most important is an antibiotic put into the GI tract where bacteria are proliferating. Veterinarians recommend oral administration of procaine penicillin – a drug effective against all Clostridia – at 1 ml/30 lbs. of bodyweight. Instead of using it according to label directions (injected), it’s given orally,” Callan says.

Some ranchers have good luck saving calves by checking the herd often (at least twice daily), and treating immediately with oral antibiotic (penicillin or neomycin sulfate solution) and castor oil – whenever they find a dull/bloated or colicky calf with severe gut pain. Once the calf goes into shock, however, intensive care with large amounts of intravenous (IV) fluids is crucial.

“Another antibiotic that seems to work is oxytetracycline given at label doses intramuscularly or subcutaneously. It works because some is excreted through the liver into the bile, and into the GI tract,” Callan explains. This drug slows bacterial protein (and toxin) production, and may be effective if given upon first symptoms.

Songer says some producers use a small amount of lasalocid (ionophore) given in a little milk replacer. “You can’t use very much with a calf because it would be toxic, but this ionophore knocks out C. perfringens. Oral amoxicillin or neomycin sulfate would also work,” Songer says. A liquid antibiotic works better and faster in the gut than a pill.

“A single dose of Banamine® helps reduce inflammation, and eases gut pain,” Callan says. “You might also coat the gut lining and protect it from the effects of the toxins with small, frequent doses of Kaopectate® or Pepto-Bismol®,” he says.

“I’ve also heard many times about castor oil as a treatment. Some producers feel it binds/absorbs toxins, and stimulates the stagnant gut to start moving. It’s better than mineral oil, which merely soothes and lubricates.” he says. The usual dose for castor oil is 2-3 oz. for a small calf, up to 5-6 oz. for a two- to three-month-old calf.

“If a calf is bloated, I usually give oil to get things moving and eliminate the toxins – if he’s not so ‘full’ that there’s no room for oil,” Meyring says.

Once a calf goes into shock, however, chance for recovery is greatly reduced. As the calf becomes toxic, the kidneys and liver can shut down, causing toxins to build faster. The calf needs treatment to reverse shock (steroids, epinephrine), along with antibiotics and IV fluids as soon as possible – as much as 5-7 liters – whatever it takes to rehydrate him enough to pass urine again, Meyring says.

Besides combating shock/circulatory failure (by adding volume to the circulatory system and halting the drop in blood pressure), IV fluids also dilute toxins in the blood. Extra fluid helps restore and stimulate kidney function to help remove toxins from the bloodstream. Some veterinarians’ experience in treating toxic calves has shown that if urine production can be restored, most calves survive.