How to prevent leptospirosis in cattle

Leptospirosis is one of the most common diseases facing UK herds, with data pointing to infection rates of 70% on dairy farms and 18% on beef farms.

Alongside its impact on cattle the disease is zoonotic, which means it has jumped from animal to human, posing a risk to staff.

Here, MSD Animal Health dairy advisor, Steph Small, explains how best to prevent leptospirosis.

What is leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is caused by the bacteria leptospira, which affects both
humans and animals. There are two main strains infecting UK herds
and infection in cattle can cause infertility, reduced milk yields and
abortion, as well as premature and sickly calves.

Signs of infection can often go undetected. Like other endemic
diseases, leptospirosis has several common symptoms including
reduced appetite and general lethargy in the cattle rising to more
serious consequences like the loss of a calf.

If you see any of these signs it’s important you work with your vet.
Taking blood samples in beef herds and using a bulk milk sample
in dairy cows will determine if leptospirosis is an issue. The vet can
then recommend a plan to control infected animals and prevent
further spread.

How does leptospirosis infect cattle?

The main causes of leptospirosis infection are when direct contact is made with infected biological material including urine, faeces or blood.

Other potential risk factors include open herds, mixing with sheep, using shared bulls and shared grazing and common watercourses. Disease is more likely to spread during spring and summer, which means turnout is high-risk.

Unvaccinated cattle are also at risk of disease when they are introduced to an endemically infected herd.

How to prevent leptospirosis entering your herd?

The most efficient way to get on top of the disease is a herd vaccination programme, such as with LEPTAVOID®-H, which is the only vaccine that protects against the two common strains of leptospirosis in UK herds.

Vaccination timing is crucial. Spring turnout is high-risk, so use the winter to ensure the whole herd is on the same vaccination programme and all cattle have received the appropriate boosters.

Biosecurity is also an important factor. Bought-in cattle, including replacement cows and bulls, can pose a high risk, so it’s vital the animals are quarantined before being allowed to mix with the wider herd. Testing these cattle for infection is also advised unless you can guarantee their previous herd’s health status.

Other biosecurity measures include restricting cattle from access to external sources of infection, for example open waterways, and maintaining clean sheds over winter. Outbreaks can be devastating to production and the bottom line, as well as potentially causing a risk for you and your staff. If not vaccinating already, talk to your animal health advisor about implementing a preventative herd health plan to protect your cattle.

Resources: Latest data provided by BeefCheck and DairyCheck, January 2018 - August 2019.

For more information, please speak to your local in-store Registered Animal Medicine Advisor (RAMA)