Ask the Vet

Calf Loss Likely Due to Joint Ill

Joint ill, often resulting from an infected navel, generally affects calves two weeks old and younger. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Victoria G. Myers)


I had a calf born blind,that did not nurse well. I tried force-feeding, but she fought me so much I quit. After a couple of days, I tried again and was able to get her to nurse, but she got pneumonia and her joints were swollen. The vet told me that even with treatment, she probably would not live. He was right, she only survived about two weeks. Could you explain what she had?


Without seeing the calf, my guess is that this was a condition often called "joint ill" which commonly occurs when bacteria spread from an infected navel (navel ill) into an animal's joints. These joints swell and are hot and painful. Because the infection spreads through the blood, other organ systems may be infected. These little dudes can get really sick really quickly. Even with aggressive treatment, many will die.

Navel ill and joint ill are most common in the first couple of weeks of life. Both conditions are often associated with poor sanitation and inadequate colostrum (amount or quality) within the first hours of life. This predisposes young calves to a wide variety of diseases, including pneumonia, scours, joint ill and navel ill.