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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Redwater: Signs and how to prevent in cattle

Recent studies show that redwater, a severe life-threatening disease of cattle caused by a parasite called Babesia divergens, is declining in Ireland.

But, as a result, this means that some farmers and veterinary practitioners may be “less familiar” with clinical signs, according to Natascha Meunier, Beef HealthCheck Programme Manager, at AHI – Animal Health Ireland,

Redwater disease (babesiosis), as Meunier explained in one of the body’s parasite control programme bulletins, itself is transmitted by a tick that is commonly found in Ireland, particularly in the west and along the Shannon River system.

She advised that keeping pastures well managed can prevent animals from being bitten by ticks and infected with the disease. However, margins near hedges may still be a suitable environment for ticks,

So, how will I know if an animal has redwater?

After an animal is bitten by a redwater-infected tick, it can take up to three weeks to show any signs of disease.

Early-stage signs:

  • Animals staying away from the group;
  • Reduced appetite;
  • High temperature;
  • Frothy urine with a red-brownish colour;
  • Diarrhoea (often ‘pipe-stem diarrhoea’ passed as a thin jet).

Later stage signs:

  • Weakness/staggering, animal unable to stand;
  • Changes in colour of gums and under eyelids to very pale (anaemic) or yellow (jaundice);
  • Normal urine colour;
  • Constipation;
  • Death.

Carefully monitor animals on pasture for signs of disease, particularly during spring or autumn, especially if you have recently introduced them to the herd.

Animals can die quickly following the first appearance of signs of infection, she warns.

Readers should note that calves show natural resistance to redwater and tend not to develop clinical disease under six months of age.

Calves over 6 to 9 months of age that have not been exposed to redwater ticks and are introduced to tick-infested areas are highly susceptible to infection and serious illness.

So, what should you do if you suspect an animal has redwater?

Calling your veterinary practitioner immediately is the first and foremost piece of advice.

“An early diagnosis and veterinary treatment are key to survival for the animal,” she outlines.

“Treatment may include an injection of imidocarb dipropionate to kill the parasite.”

“This drug has a withdrawal period of 213 days for meat and 21 days for milk.”

“Poorly nourished animals, pregnant cows and animals without previous exposure to redwater parasites tend to be more severely affected,” she adds.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, a live vaccine had been developed in the past, but it is “currently not available”.

Preventing redwater – Meunier’s tips
  • Minimise dense vegetation and under-grazed rough pasture, which are favourable areas for ticks;
  • Follow good pasture management practices to prevent under-grazing and overgrowth – Clear scrub, ferns and rushes from grazing land. Ticks can persist on the margins of reclaimed fields;
  • Keep susceptible cattle out of tick-infested areas;
  • High-risk periods are April-May and August-October, but mild, wet weather can allow tick activity to continue through the summer;
  • Expose cattle to tick areas before six months of age or buy in animals that have previously grazed tick-infested areas;
  • Specific preventative measures such as topical tick treatments or preventive drug treatment can be used to prevent disease;
  • Speak to your veterinary practitioner about the best approach;
  • Good pasture management practices should aim to prevent undergrazing and overgrowth.

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