Veterinary medicine, like human medicine, is very complex and difficult to master.
Outcomes can rely on a quick, accurate diagnosis and followed up by a timely treatment. If we have made the right diagnosis, detected it early enough and treated with the appropriate product, then the odds of a successful prognosis will go up considerably.
If detection is late or treatment is not pursued right away, those odds can drop significantly. We may save an animal by treating it, but if treated later a chronic condition may result and performance greatly reduced.
Timing and prompt treatment regarding pneumonia is an obvious one.
We are constantly vigilant about using all of our powers to detect early pneumonias. Researchers are trying every tool at their disposal for detecting it. Most cattlemen can be trained to search for the most telltale signs of pneumonia: Droopy ears, off feed, head down, and extended neck breathing. If a temperature is confirmed (but also if it isn’t), pneumonia may be diagnosed and treatment started.
This is where delays in getting to the treatment area or finishing something else could delay the treatment long enough to greatly worsen the prognosis. If one sees a pneumonia, we need to treat that calf as quickly as possible before irreversible lung damage occurs.
Feedlots try to pull twice daily, if possible, so a calf doesn’t go 12 hours or longer until the next treatment. This is also why we often pick the antimicrobials that have quicker absorption and quicker travelling to the site of the infection. You can see timing is critical.
In many cattle I have treated, we monitor response to treatment by an improvement in temperature followed by a cessation in critical signs. This is often very dramatic and can be as quick as a couple of hours. Pneumonia is especially critical to treat quickly. This is why pasture riders either rope and treat or dart cattle they see as sick immediately. They know any delay can be fatal.
If an animal is severely dehydrated, time is also of the essence.
A scouring calf is the best example of this and fluids are more likely to help save the calf’s life (not antibiotics). Judgment comes into play in determining when oral fluids are good enough and if providing fluids by IV is necessary. Even if they are necessary, getting oral fluids started may help while the IV fluids are getting rigged up. It’s easy to administer fluids orally to older cattle and if given with electrolytes, it may gain you some time while the real cause can be determined.
With other conditions (such as lameness — as long as not packing the leg), we have time to assess and treat and, in many cases, can wait for a day. Often lameness for an animal at pasture may be a strain or sprain, and the animal will recover on its own. This is an example where waiting and reassessing are the order of the day as it is a non-life-threatening condition.
For some of these medical conditions, it pays to really be observant of the abnormal clinical signs when cattle are not stressed in the chute. Signs are easier to observe and may help us make the right diagnosis.
Keep in mind treatment with NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) for things such as lameness, sickness, and pain may mask the clinical signs and make it a bit more difficult to make the final diagnosis. Have a real good look from a distance and then in the chute before running for the NSAIDs so you know what you are treating. NSAIDs can even lower the temperature on their own in many cases depending on the type given.
Treating cattle is not easy and many decisions need to be made.
In potential life-threatening situations, one must recognize the need to treat as soon as possible. In others a wait-and-see attitude is good.
Do this all under the VCPR (Vet-Client-Patient-Relationship) so good protocols are in place and you know the best medication to use for condition X. Results will be better if treatment is started earlier in the serious conditions and you have a backup plan in case it is unsuccessful.
And one must always have in the back of your mind — what would it have taken to prevent this condition in the first place?