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Ketosis is an important clinical and subclinical disease, as there are several metabolic disorders and diseases that commonly occur in the calving and the early lactation period that are linked to ketosis (including milk fever, retained foetal membranes and displaced abomasum). There is a gradual loss of body condition over several days or even weeks. There is also a moderate to marked decline in milk yield (up to 5 litres per day) over five to six days before the onset of obvious clinical signs. It is most commonly seen in high-yielding dairy cows in early lactation. Secondary ketosis due to lack of appetite as a result of another disease can be seen at any stage of lactation. Beef cows may also suffer from ketosis during pregnancy, although this is less commonly seen.
It is important to recognise that many cases of ketosis are subclinical, with the cow’s performance and health compromised, but without visible clinical signs. The clinical signs of ketosis include a refusal to eat grain and concentrate feeds and a sudden drop in milk output. There is a sweet smell of acetone in the breath and milk. Some cows may exhibit nervous signs, which include excessive salivation, abnormal chewing movements, licking of walls, gates or metal bars, incoordination with apparent blindness and a degree of aggression. The nervous signs often only last for a few hours.
Cows with ketosis are at greater risk of developing retained foetal membranes, displacement of the abomasumand are more likely to have prolonged calving to conception intervals and lower fertility. Due to an impaired immune system they are also more susceptible to certain types of mastitis.
Treatment relies on prompt diagnosis and mainly consists of energy supplementation either through glucose administration in the vein and/or propylene glycol orally as well as other supportive therapies. If you are concerned about a cow in your herd then please do not hesitate to contact the practice.
One of the guiding principles of prevention is to feed high levels of roughage in the diet to promote good rumen digestion. For dairy cattle fed at least 60% fresh or conserved roughage, this should be of high quality during early lactation to meet the energy and protein requirements.
Transition cow management (the late dry period up to the first 1-2 weeks of lactation) is critical in prevention of a range of metabolic diseases including ketosis, and as such should be highlighted in the herd health plan.
Prevention of ketosis is important, as cows with clinical and sub-clinical disease have a reduced milk yield and are predisposed to several other conditions due to immunosuppression. The key to prevention of ketosis is good transition cow management.
“I’ve used Daleside Vets for 25 years and always been very happy with their service.“Mike Done, Asney Park Farm. Milking 200 Organic Holsteins