Joint ill (Navel ill) of Calves
What is joint ill?
Navel or joint ill is a disease of young calves, usually less
than one week of age. It occurs as a result of infection entering
via the umbilical cord at, or soon after, birth. This infection can
result in a range of signs depending on where the bacteria spread
- If infection stays mostly confined to the navel, the primary
sign is a swollen, painful navel that does not dry up
- An abscess may develop from which pus (often like a thick
custard) may burst
- The calf may have a high temperature and reduced appetite.
- If infection spreads from the navel, or navel ill is not
treated, further signs will develop as bacteria spread via the
bloodstream and settle in other parts of the body.
- The commonest sites for bacteria to settle are the joints. This
leads to swollen stiff painful (often hot) joints
- Temperature will be raised while the bacteria spread but by the
time the disease is noted it may be normal
- Loss of appetite and depression
- Usually only a few calves in a batch are infected though
outbreaks can occur where hygiene is very poor
Other sites where bacteria can settle include the eyes, around
the heart and the brain. Death is common in the latter cases.
In some calves infection spreads from the navel to the liver
causing a liver abscess. In this case problems may not be noted
until the calves are older (1 -3 months)
- The diagnosis of joint or navel ill is usually based on the
- If a swollen navel is the main sign, ensure that it is not a
hernia before treating
- All calves that die suddenly should be have a PM
- Early prompt treatment is important as early treatment is much
- Separate the infected animals and isolate them. TLC is an
essential part of treatment.
- Antibiotics and painkillers are effective in most mild cases.
Antibiotic treatment should continue until after the signs have
disappeared (which can take over a week even in mild cases)
- Severe cases may not recover even with prolonged antibiotic
- For large navel abscesses, veterinary intervention to drain and
remove the infected tissue is often necessary
Prevention is the key to this disease. Ensuring that the cow
calves in a clean environment will significantly reduce the risk of
joint ill (and many other diseases such as toxic mastitis and
metritis). Proper planning and preparation can prevent the build-up
of disease that occurs in too many calving areas.
Applying a disinfectant (such as iodine) to the navel can reduce
the risk of bacteria entering via the navel, but it is no
substitute for good hygiene. No amount of disinfectant can overcome
being born in a dirty wet yard. Because of the anatomy, bulls
navels tend to dry slower than heifers and they are thus at more
risk of navel ill. Applying disinfectant two or three times to
bulls can reduce the risk.
It is also important to ensure that if cattle are born in a nice
clean environment that they aren't moved to other pens or
contaminated pastures until the navel has dried completely.
Finally, like all diseases of young calves getting sufficient
colostrum is essential. Ensure that all calves get a good suck in
the first 6 hours of birth. If this doesn't happen ensure that they
get at least 2 litres of colostrum as soon as possible. Colostrum
works best if calves take it from a bucket, but if stomach tubing
is the only option it's a lot better than no colostrum.