Common and important diseases of cattle

J.A. Turton

If you know about the diseases of cattle, you can be aware of how best to prevent and treat them. Many of these diseases can be prevented by good management

Tick damage and tick-borne diseases

Tick damage

Tick-borne diseases


Redwater is caused by the blue tick. Left is the male with the female on the right

  • Signs of redwater are fever, lack of appetite, red urine, pale to yellow gums and eyes, and sometimes nervous signs such as difficulty
    in walking
  • This disease can lead to deaths if the animals are not treated in time
  • Treatment involves keeping the cattle calm. They should not be driven over long distances and should be injected with Berenil or Imizol
  • The dose for Berenil is 5 ml of made up solution (1 packet mixed with 12,5 ml of sterile water) for each 100 kg (for example, 20 ml for a 400 kg animal)
  • The dose for Imizol is 1 ml for each 100 kg (for example, 4 ml for a 400 kg animal)



  • Signs of heartwater are fever, depression, high-stepping, leading to convulsions and death
  • Treatment is with Tetracycline, as already mentioned. Read the instructions on the bottle for the dose

Diseases that people can get from cattle

  • Brucellosis can cause abortion in cows and is also highly infectious to people

Drink pasteurised/
treated milk!
  • People get infected by drinking untreated milk from animals which have the disease or by handling them
  • Signs of disease in people are tiredness, headaches, night sweat, muscle pain and loss of appetite


  • Prevention involves vaccination and testing of the blood of the animal
  • All female calves are vaccinated between 4 and 8 months of age. A live vaccine is used and it is best that it is injected by your veterinarian or animal health technician. Pregnant animals must not be vaccinated, because they will abort
  • Cows should also be bled by your state veterinarian or animal health technician yearly to check if they are free of brucellosis
  • Cows testing positive for brucellosis are branded with a C brand on the neck. Do not buy a cow with this brand, because she is infected and may spread the disease to your other cows
  • Note that abortion can be caused by many different diseases, of which brucellosis is one of the most important. Some of these may be spread by the bull. If your cows are aborting it is very important to get the cause identified by your state veterinarian. Care must be taken when handling aborted calves. Wear gloves to protect you from becoming infected

Tuberculosis (TB)

  • Cattle with tuberculosis often become very thin over time
  • People can get TB from cattle by drinking infected milk
  • You should have your herd tested for TB every year by your state veterinarian. This involves a skin test
  • Animals testing positive are given a T brand on the left side of the neck

Cattle measles



Diet-related problems

Eating plastic bags and wire

Poisonous plants

  • Toxic plants can cause serious diseases and deaths in cattle
  • It is important to know what toxic plants occur in your area, and to prevent your cattle from eating these
  • Poisoning can especially be a problem when you buy in new animals which are not used to the plants in your area and are more likely to eat toxic plants
  • Poisoning can also happen when you move cattle to new paddocks where toxic plants occur
  • A common poisonous plant is gifblaar. The time when poisoning occurs most is at the end of the dry season, when this plant may be the only green food to eat. The plant leads to sudden death in cattle

The "boetebossie"

Diseases causing lameness and paralysis

Foot problems



  • Blackquarter is a disease that causes swelling of a leg, lameness and death
  • Penicillin treatment may be possible in the early stages
  • Prevention is by vaccination


Three-day stiffsickness

Lumpy-skin disease (lsd)


Disease prevention


Tick and worm control

Brucellosis and TB testing


This publication is also available on the web:

Information provided by
Animal Health for Developing Farmers
ARC-Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute
Private Bag X05, Onderstepoort 0110
Tel. (012) 529 9158


Compiled by Directorate Communication, Department of Agriculture
in cooperation with ARC-Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute

Printed and published by the Department of Agriculture
and obtainable from Resource Centre, Directorate Communication
Private Bag X144, Pretoria, 0001 South Africa