A calf treated for early signs of toxic gut infection usually does better within hours of receiving oral antibiotic, castor oil and Banamine®. But many calves go off feed a few days later, with low-grade gut pain and ulcer-like symptoms. They grind their teeth, a sign of abdominal discomfort.

“Stomach ulcers, especially abomasal ulcers, are related to C. perfringens infections, mostly Type A,” says Colorado State University DVM Robert Callan. Such calves will quit nursing and, unless force-fed, will go downhill. Some calves have fluid build-up in the abomasum, with sloshing sounds as they move.

“The acute infection can damage the gut lining, which would explain these signs,” says Glenn Songer, Iowa State University Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Preventive Medicine. “We often find abomasal ulceration and necrotic lesions in the lining of the small intestine,” he says.

“Cattle don’t respond to anti-ulcer medications as readily as humans or horses,” Callan says. “To help a calf with ulcers, we give frequent doses of gastric protectants like Kaopectate® or Pepto-Bismol® to coat the gut lining, and try to reduce acid level by frequent feeding. If the calf won’t nurse, force-feed him with small volumes of milk.

“If you can keep the stomach coated and food in it, ulcers eventually heal – usually within a week. The worst thing is when an ulcer keeps eating deeper and perforates the abdomen; then the calf gets peritonitis and dies,” Callan says.

Heather Thomas is a rancher and freelancer based in Salmon, ID.