Ask the Vet

Pneumonia's Long-Term Damage

In today's cow market, chronic lungers probably aren't worth holding on to. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Russ Quinn)

Question: We had a cow develop severe pneumonia in the spring. Our veterinarian treated her, and she is doing a great job raising her calf. He warned us her long-term health may have been compromised. It has been extremely hot and humid, and late last evening, I noticed she was breathing harder and faster than the other cows. She had clear discharge from her nose. We gave her a dose of penicillin. Is this a leftover infection from the spring pneumonia?

Answer: With severe pneumonia, lung function can be decreased by scar tissue and the loss of function of some of the sacs where the body takes in oxygen and gets rid of carbon dioxide. These cattle may never fully recover. They can have long hair, poor body condition and struggle to breath. They are "chronic lungers" or "lungers."

This can be very common with calves in stocker and feedlot operations, but it can happen to cows, as well. It is all about the degree of damage. I suspect in this case, the infection is long gone, but some damage remains. With heat and humidity, both people and animals with compromised respiratory function suffer. I doubt antibiotics are indicated, and I would not recommend using them at this point.

If she gets worse or the discharge increases and develops color, your veterinarian needs to recheck her. In some cases, these cattle will redevelop pneumonia and may need antibiotics. This could be a recurrent problem. With cows worth what they are now, she may not be worth the risk. If pneumonia did develop during a period of high heat and humidity, it is going to be much harder to treat.