Fluid Therapy

Diarrhea causes severe dehydration and electrolyte loss that may become life-threatening within a short period of time.  The first step in the treatment of any diarrhetic calf is fluid therapy to correct the hydration status of the calf.  Fluid therapy is a water and electrolyte mixture that is essential to correct and prevent dehydration.  The calf will need enough fluids to supply normal body water turnover plus fluid it has already lost through diarrhea plus account for ongoing fluid losses.  In other words, it is important to administer more fluid than the calf is losing in its diarrhea.  It is important to consult a veterinarian on the appropriate fluid formulation needed in your particular situation.  The 2 most common administrations for fluid therapy are:

            Administer IV for depressed or down calves

            Administer orally for strong calves

It is important to remember that fluid therapy will not stop the diarrhea!  It just prevents further dehydration.


Therapeutic Agents

Neonatal diarrhea can be caused by a variety of different infectious agents.  It is crucial to determine the responsible causative agent to help decide which therapeutic agent and supportive treatment to use.  You should consult your veterinarian to find out what diagnostic tests are appropriate for your situation.  It is important to realize that each infectious agent causes different disruptions to the gut even though they all result in diarrhea.  Therefore, each calf will require a customized therapy plan.  Therapy plans for calves will always include some form of fluid therapy.  Some calves will also require additional therapeutic agents such as antibiotics or colostrum.  For example, a calf who was deficient in colostrum will develop diarrhea.  It is important to administer aggressive fluid therapy, electrolyte solutions, colostrum, and antibiotics to this particular calf.  However, calves with other types of diarrhea will not require the same therapy plan.  Regardless of your situation, consult your veterinarian to determine the appropriate plan of action for your calf.


Prevention is the best control for neonatal diarrhea.  The management practices you employ on your farm are crucial in maintaining herd health.  Outbreaks of neonatal diarrhea can be an economic disaster for your operation.  Educate yourself on preventative strategies that you can employ on your farm – you won’t regret it!


Besser, T. & N. Gates. Calf scours: cause, treatment, prevention.  Washington State University.  Extension Bulletin no. 1553. February 1990.

Mullowney, PC, and WH Patterson. (1985) Therapeutic agents used in the treatment of calf diarrhea. Vet Clin North Am [Food Anim Pract] 1:563-579.

Phillips, RW. (1985) Fluid therapy for diarrhetic calves: What, how, and how much. Vet Clin North Am [Food Anim Pract] 1:541-562.


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