Ask the Vet

Calf With Pinkeye?

There are a lot of reasons a newborn calf could have a cloudy eye, other than pinkeye. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Jim Patrico)

Question: Can calves be born with pinkeye? I have a calf, never exposed to other cattle, and his eye is watery, cloudy and red around the edge. It looks like the early stages of pinkeye, but for the life of me, I don't know how he could have contracted it.

Answer: "Pinkeye" can be a misunderstood term. Technically, pinkeye refers to infectious bovine keratoconjunctivitis (IBK), an infection involving the cornea. It's commonly caused by Moraxella bovis, Moraxella ovis or Moraxella bovoculi.

Other bacteria (Mycoplasma bovis) and viruses (infectious bovine rhinotracheitis) cause diseases similar to IBK or predispose animals to IBK. In fact, there is a long list of potential reasons a newborn calf could have a cloudy eye, which may, or may not, be pinkeye.

If, for example, the calf's eye was damaged during, or shortly after, delivery, it could turn white or cloudy from a corneal ulcer or abrasion.

Another common cause of a cloudy eye is septicemia, a bacterial infection in the blood. Septicemia may also lead to swollen joints, diarrhea, pneumonia and meningitis. Many calves with septicemia become very sick, and, even with aggressive treatment, some will not survive.

Lastly, a cloudy eye can result from the animal having a congenital cataract. In this case, the cornea may not be involved, but you will see the cloudy lens behind the pupil. Genetics and bovine viral diarrhea are possible causes of congenital cataracts.

As you can see, this is a mystery you'll need some face time with your veterinarian to solve. And it will be time well worth it, because without treatment, you could lose the calf. At today's prices, that's something no one wants to have happen.