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California Department of Food and Agriculture

Cattle Health


The cattle industry is invaluable to California’s agriculture and therefore  cattle health is a top priority. Our branch aids in the management of cattle diseases that cannot be managed by the single producer and his/her veterinarian. If you raise cattle, having a private practitioner is important because some diseases are highly contagious to other cattle, other species, or even people. If you suspect you are dealing with such a disease, contact our district offices. Some signs to look for are vesicles, unusual or unexplained illness, CNS Signs, mucosal diseases, hemorrhagic septicemias, unusual larvae in wounds, unusual (ornate) ticks, high morbidity or mortality. For more information on ways you can protect your cattle against the introduction and spread of disease and improve herd health, please visit the CDFA Bovine Biosecurity page.

California has many segments to the cattle industry. The Animal Health Branch tries to recognize this and approaches issues accordingly when dealing with diseases and programs within the various segments. The first level of differences in the cattle industry can be seen by how beef and dairy production differs. However, one can quickly recognize that within these two divisions there are multiple subdivisions such as cow-calf operations, stockers, feeders and others. We try to be sure that we recognize this in the design and implementation of disease programs.

Some animal diseases may affect cattle populations outside the state, thus there may be Federal-State Cooperative Programs (FSC) to address this interest. Bovine Tuberculosis, Bovine Brucellosis, Johne’s and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy are all examples of FSC programs.

  • Anthrax
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    Anthrax is a potentially fatal disease of all warm-blooded animals, including humans. The disease is caused by a spore-forming bacterium called Bacillus anthracis. Species susceptibility varies. Cattle, sheep and goats are considered highly susceptible and birds highly resistant. In animals, transmission occurs by ingestion and possibly inhalation of spores.

    Recent national events have resulted in renewed interest in anthrax. Outbreaks in livestock in 2007 have been reported in California, South Dakota, North Dakota, Texas, Montana and Minnesota. Anthrax Fact Sheet


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  • Brucellosis
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    Brucellosis is a contagious disease of livestock that also affects humans. The disease is also known as contagious abortion or Bang's disease in livestock. In humans, it is known as undulant fever because of the intermittent fever accompanying infection. It is one of the most serious diseases of livestock, because it spreads so rapidly and it is transmissible to humans. For more information see our Brucellosis web page.
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  • Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
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    BSE, widely known as "Mad Cow Disease", is a fatal disease of cattle first recognized in the United Kingdom in 1986. Most research suggests an abnormal protein, known as a prion, causes BSE. Scientific evidence shows the same disease agent that causes BSE in cattle also causes the new human disease, variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease. BSE spreads in cattle primarily through animal feed containing processed ruminant products. Cattle infected with BSE take 2 to 8 years before showing signs of disease, which include changes in temperament such as nervousness or aggressiveness, and progressive incoordination. For more information see our BSE web page.
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  • Bovine Tuberculosis
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    Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious bacterial disease caused by Mycobacterium species that usually affects the respiratory system. Animals infected with TB may not show signs for years, and animals that appear healthy may be capable of transmitting infection to other animals. For more information see our Bovine Tuberculosis web page.
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  • Foot and Mouth Disease
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    Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) is a debilitating disease affecting all cloven–hoofed animals, including cattle, pigs, and sheep. Clinical signs commonly seen in cattle are drooling, lip smacking, and lameness, caused by blisters (vesicles) on the tongue, dental pad and feet. Sheep and pigs have similar, but often less pronounced, clinical signs. For more information see our Foot and Mouth Disease web page.
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  • Johne's Disease
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    Johne's disease is caused by a bacterium (Mycobacterium paratuberculosis) that infects the intestinal tract of ruminants. Cattle are usually infected as calves but do not show clinical signs until three or more years of age. The disease develops slowly and eventually kills the infected animal. There is no effective treatment. Cattle with advanced Johne's disease have chronic diarrhea and continually lose weight despite having good appetites. For more information see our Johne's Disease web page.
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  • Rabies
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    Rabies is a viral disease affecting all mammals that is invariably fatal if not treated. Cases are diagnosed in livestock, as well as in dogs, cats, and wildlife. CDFA, along with the California Department of Health Services, monitors cases in livestock. For more information see the Department of Health Services Center for Disease Control web page.
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  • Screwworm
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    Screwworms are fly larvae (maggots) that feed on living flesh. These parasites can infect any warm-blooded animal. Screwworms enter wounds as small as an insect bite and feed on living tissue in the area. If untreated, screwworm infestations can be fatal. In the US, Screwworm is a Foreign Animal Disease reportable within 24 hours of diagnosis. Screwworms have most recently entered the U.S. in dogs that have been imported from areas of the world where the flies are endemic. Screwworm Fact Sheet
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  • Trichomonosis
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    Bovine trichomonosis (aka trichomoniasis or trich) is a venereal disease of cattle caused by the protozoa Tritrichomonas foetus. The organism lives in the folds of the prepuce and internal sheath in bulls, and colonizes the vagina, cervix, uterus and oviducts of cows. It causes abortion and extended calving seasons. Bulls will remain persistently infected and spread infection from cow to cow during natural service; however, cows generally clear infection after two to three heat cycles. For more information see our Trichomonosis web page.
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  • Vesicular Stomatitis
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    Vesicular stomatitis (VS) is a virus caused disease that primarily affects cattle, horses, and swine. The disease can also affect many other species of animals and has occurred in sheep, goats, wildlife, and occasionally humans. The major significance of the disease is its nearly identical appearance to the truly devastating foot and mouth disease, which was eradicated from the United States nearly seven decades ago. More information about Vesicular Stomatitis is available on our Vesicular Stomatitis page.
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