Farm Ireland

Monday 11 December 2017

Taking steps to treat and stop pink-eye spreading

Pink-eye is an infection of the eyelids and eyeball that spreads from animal to animal quite rapidly
Pink-eye is an infection of the eyelids and eyeball that spreads from animal to animal quite rapidly

Peadar O Scanaill

The blanket of snow across the country has made stock husbandry difficult and any cattle that are still outdoors require extra feeding to generate the heat to survive.

Across the country these past few weeks, vets have seen a notable rise in infected eyes in livestock. Pink-eye is what everyone calls it but, in fact, some of these cases are not true pink-eye at all.

Infected eyes fall into two main categories. The first one is the true pink-eye that we all know. This is an infection of the eyelids and eyeball that spreads from animal to animal quite rapidly. We usually see it in the summer and autumn months while the cattle are out grazing. It spreads by contact or by vector. The vector in this case is the fly as he goes from eye to eye in cattle during those fly-intensive days of warm summer. Direct contact will also spread this infection but grazing animals don't usually huddle up against each other for that to happen.

The other nasty eye infection we see occurs in the winter and is caused by a fungus. The feeding of round-bale silage in particular is the trigger. Some fungal growth on the bales infects the eye, and the close contact at the feed barrier or round feeder helps spread it. Again, the eyelids and eyeballs are infected and often it is difficult to distinguish one disease from the other. So the fungal disease from silage can also be called pink-eye, even though it is a different disease.

Treatment in either case involves putting a creamy eye ointment into the infected eye every second day until it clears up. This can be difficult to do when cattle are kept in a haggard or being fed at round feeders on an out-farm.

Couple that with snow and ice and you can see how frustrating it has been for farmers and vets treating eye infections over the past two weeks.

Where more than 30pc of a group are affected, a blanket treatment involving injections into each and every eye in the batch can be required. Your vet will be best placed to diagnose the disease and give best advice on how to treat it. In the case of fungal infections from haylage or baled silage in particular, it may be necessary to change the forage.

Another consideration with the spread of any eye or head infection is what is happening at the feed barrier. Housed cattle on slatted units are often pressed for space at the feed area. Close contact and head rubbing occurs when fresh forage is placed along the passage. One infected eye on one animal will be rubbed in and out as the beef cattle jostle for space. Hence, we see a rapid spread of any eye disease in these circumstances, which leads to some obvious advice.

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As soon as any one infected eye is noted in these pens, remove the beast as soon as possible. Sometimes this is not practical but if it is done, then the spread is stopped.

This is also the case with the autumn grazing of cattle that are getting supplementary feed. The cattle are outdoors. The flies are gone and, yet, we may see a true pink-eye problem in a batch. Here, the spread would be at the trough where one persistently infected eye is shedding the bacteria and the close contact during supplementary feeding helps to spread the infection. Simply stop the feeding to stop the spread. Actively treat and separate the animal with the offending bad eye. When the infection has cleared up, supplementary feeding can resume.

Sounds easy and yet it is often difficult to deal with infected eyes. Sheep will also succumb to eye infections. Where sheep and cattle share an area, eye infections can spread from one species to another.

This is also true of another much rarer disease called malignant catarrhal fever. This virus will also cause eye lesions in cattle along with much more serious fever, respiratory disease and often scour. The sheep can be the source and yet can seem healthy.

Back to basics. An accurate diagnosis is paramount and, from there, your vet will put you on the right course of treatment. Let's keep the tears from the eyes for another while.

Points of note

  • Consult your vet to accurately diagnose the disease.
  • Prevent the spread of eye infections, especially with winter feeding.
  • Avoid mouldy haylage or baled silage.

Irish Independent