Q – I have a Highland cow, who is breathing heavily. She is currently feeding a  calf. She is eating well, with no other signs or symptoms,  although she is perhaps a bit listless. My cattle are inside, but the shed has two full open sides,  so there is plently of fresh air. She  has ad lib silage and water and  has feed once a day. Do you have  any idea why she should be  breathing heavily? All other cows are fine.

A- Heavy breathing either implies a respiratory problem, cardiovascular problem or blood imbalance.  Being indoors is a risk factor for  pneumonias as the stocking density increases. The stress of calving causes a dip in immunity and makes an animal more prone to pneumonias. Outbreaks of pneumonias are commonly either associated with youngstock or the  introduction of a ‘novel’ pathogen to a unit (disease causing virus or bacterium), however, individualadults under enough pressure can succumb to pneumonia. Pus is not always seen from the discharges of the nose as the infection could be deep into the lungs. Other explanations could be that the cow has traumatic rumenoreticuloperitonitis – that is a wire or sharp foreign body that a cow could have consumed. Under the abdominal strains of calving, this could pierce through the rumen or reticulum (first two stomachs of a cow) and penetrate into the lungs – although I would expect the cow to be lethargic with this. It could be a cardiovascular problem – heart abscess on the  valves, heart murmur or arrhythmia. Anything causing anaemia will cause increased breathing. Any blood disturbances caused by things like kidney problems (more common in older cows) or liver disease will also cause increased breathing rates. It is best to get in touch with your local vet to make a diagnosis.

Do you have an email welfare query? If so, send it to Jenny at vetsforum.csh@archant.co.uk

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