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Managing cattle mange and lice


Insects only trouble cattle in the summer, right? Wrong. Winter’s cold temperatures bring out mange and lice, and the accompanying sores and incessant itching. Relief, and better cattle health, comes with attention and treatment. Though time, effort and expense are involved, not treating the conditions can lead to herd and financial losses.

Types of mangeMan with cattle

The five types of mange are caused by different parasites.

Chorioptic mange is the most common form of mange in the U.S. It’s caused by non-burrowing mites found at the base of the animal’s fur. They feed on skin debris and tissue fluids. Chorioptic mange is found on the scrotum, udder, thighs, under the flanks, inside the hocks and at the base of the tail. These mites are not visible, so skin scrapings are needed for positive diagnosis.

Psoroptic mites bite the skin and feed on the secretions. This mange is common to central and western states. Initially mites are found on the withers, along the back and base of the tail. The condition can quickly worsen to oozing sores.

Mites that burrow under the skin cause sarcoptic mange. Its lesions are found in areas with little hair: ears, udder, scrotum, inner thighs and around the base of the tail.

Other mange conditions are demodectic mange which is transferred from cow to calf during nursing. Psorergatic mange is very mild and usually isn’t treated.

Mange symptoms and treatment

Mange is very contagious and is spread through direct contact among infected cattle. Contaminated grooming tools also spread it, so clean them thoroughly.

Mangy cattle have small, crusty lesions that can become heavily scabbed over. Lesions can spread without treatment. Other symptoms include excessive rubbing and licking, as well as dehydration, weight loss, hypothermia from severe hair loss and reduced milk production. Mange can be fatal in and of itself, because of overall deterioration of the animal’s health.

When an infected animal is discovered, remove it from the herd. Quarantine new animals and keep them under observation for a few weeks.

The treatment is similar for various types of mange, so discuss the options with your veterinarian.
Pour-on medications usually take effect faster than injections. Injections, however, are used in severe mange cases where the infection is deep under the skin. Discuss the treatment options with your veterinarian.

Cattle Lice

Lice are tiny insects that move over the body of the cow causing severe itching.

Biting lice eat dead skin and scabs, while chewing lice feed on hair, scabs and skin excretions. Sucking lice suck blood and serum. Sucking lice do the most damage by draining the animal’s energy, stunting growth and cutting weight gain.

As cattle scratch for relief, they can rub off large patches of fur causing raw, bleeding areas. Lice infestations weaken the animal, hinder appetite and normal feeding, and restrain growth rate. Overall, lice reduce the animal’s ability to fight disease.

Lice cause the cattle industry considerable financial losses, because of the negative impact on the animals’ health.

Lice symptoms and treatment

Lice are spread by direct contact between infected cattle. Those with the condition have a rough, shaggy appearance. They rub and lick excessively. Bald areas appear on the face, neck, back, shoulders and the base of the tail.

Examine the cattle every few weeks and before applying control measures. Part the animal's hair where lice are most likely to be found and look for lice or for eggs attached to the hair. Determine what type of lice has infected your cattle, as some treatments are more effective on one type than another.

Insecticides are used to treat cattle lice. Apply them using a pour-on approach, injections, back rubbers, dust bags or sprayers. However, insecticide sprays don’t kill the eggs, so a follow-up treatment about two weeks later is usually recommended.

Whichever method or product is chosen, follow dosing instructions. Treat all cattle at the same time. Results are best if the animals are in good health.

Share your experiences with cattle mange and lice here.

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