Recovery from Joint Ill in Calves

Joint ill in calves is a secondary effect to navel ill. As such, in order to understand the recovery process of infected calves there is need for farmers to fully comprehend the main cause of the infection. Navel ill is basically a term used to refer to a variety of infections that affect the umbilicus following parturition. When the navel code is broken at birth, vessels naturally constrict and dry up. However, prior to drying they are exposed for a certain period of time thereby allowing access to bacteria which spreads to all parts of the body until resting at the joints, hence joint ill in calves. Joint ill is among the leading causes of infant mortality in livestock. As such, recovery from joint ill in calves should be closely monitored and treatment offered timeously.

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Antibiotics for treatment of Joint Ill in Calves

Early treatment is necessary to prevent the spread of infection. Before administering any form of treatment, farmers should make sure that infected calves are separated from the rest of the herd. This is done to prevent other young livestock from contracting the illness. New born calves have an extremely poor immune system hence are more likely to contact bacterial infections. The common medication used in the treatment of joint ill in calves are antibiotics. Farmers should be highly cautious when administering antibiotics for prolonged periods of time as they can lead to bacteria developing some resistance. Ideally, antibiotics should be used for about a week which is often adequate time to allow recovery from joint ill in calves. Note that a certified veterinary professional must be engaged to determine the correct dosage and type of antibiotics. A veterinarian is responsible for determining the type of bacteria prevalent and the extent of the infection.

The commonly recommended dosage is approximately 10 to 12.5mg per kg. This may vary according to the type of antibiotics and severity of the infection. Although antibiotics are often successful in treating joint ill, they can sometimes fail, though on rare occasions. In such a severe scenario, surgical treatment can be necessary. However, before placing the new born calf under the knife, reasons for antibiotic failure must be investigated. Antibiotics can fail due to the inability to penetrate into the joint and kill the bacteria hidden in the proliferated membrane. Penicillin and tetracycline can be used to reach the infection thereby allowing successful recovery from join ill in calves. If these types of antibiotics also fail, there may be need to inject antibiotics directly into the joint. When using this treatment, caution should be practised not to damage the joint or introduce another bacterium. Furthermore, recovery from joint ill in calves require applying heat to the joint so as to reduce pain and swelling. This is done to allow mobility thus eliminating the risk of lameness. Pain relief, reduced swelling as well as mobility can also be achieved through the use of pain killers.

Joint Lavage

Joint lavage has been proven by the agricultural community to be among the best options for recovery from joint ill in calves. Joint lavage is basically a treatment method that flushes bacteria off the joint thereby allowing other treatment methods like antibiotics to successfully control the infection. At the end of lavage, the joint is emptied and antimicrobial agents are injected directly into the joint. These should be water soluble and non-cytotoxic, such as ceftiofur sodium or potassium penicillin.  Depending on the severity of the infection and type of antimicrobial agents, this procedure should either be administered once or for about 2 to 3 weeks if possible. Ceftiofur 1 mg/kg IV, q 12 h; Procaine Penicillin G 22,000 U/kg IM, q 12 h; Ampicillin/amoxicillin 10 mg/kg IM, q 12 h; Potentiated sulphonamides 25 mg/kg IV, q 24 h. The main objective behind the joint lavage treatment methods is to attain and maintain an effective concentration at the joints. Take care not to place a catheter in the joint because it is a 2 way street for bacterial migration. Other methods for the recovery from joint ill in calves include antibiotic impregnated collagen strips, poly (methyl methacrylate) beads as well as local intravenous administration using a tourniquet. These are however expensive, difficult to carry out and do not offer similar effectiveness. They tend to offer slightly less rate of clinical improvement.

Iodine Treatment

Recovery from joint ill in calves also incorporates the iodine treatment. Infected calves should be provided with high quality colostrum so as to increase metabolism and enable the immune system to fight bacteria. The umbilical care must be appropriately performed. Some farmers practice umbilical care by cleaning necrotic tissues and debris followed by the application of hydrogen peroxide and subsequent application of povidone iodine. The area must be dressed daily and applied with povidone iodine application for 5 consecutive days. Improvement should be recorded within 3 days of treatment. The debridement must follow through the application of diluted povidone iodine after cleaning; note that flushing with diluted chlorhexidine must be continued. Farmers are advised to closely monitor this process of recovery from joint ill in calves so as to ensure that livestock recover timeously. In cases of treatment failure, they are able to change treatment methods as necessary.


Joint ill is a common infection in new born calves with cases amounting to approximately 5 to 15% of the overall herd. Normally the umbilical cord dries up within 1 to 8 days after parturition. During this period, the calf can be exposed to dirt thus contract the illness. Farmers should be aware that the infection can also be transferred from the mother to the calf through the umbilical code, hence the need to provide pregnant cows with great care and hygiene.  Join ill is prevalent in neonatal farm animals and appears to be particularly common in calves delivered in dirty environments. As such, farmers should make sure that a clean environment is available throughout the process of recovery from joint ill in calves. Dirt environments places animals at risk of re-infection which they may not recover from. In addition, farmers should ensure that infected livestock are provided with high quality colostrum in sufficient amounts.