Pneumonia or Bovine Respiratory Disease is a common, multi-factorial disease affecting growth and performance in calves and beef cattle. A case of pneumonia can impact an animal for life reducing growth rates and increasing finishing times ultimately impacting on profitability.

Identifying cases early is key to treatment success, however the signs of pneumonia can be subtle with any of the following associated with disease:

  • Coughing
  • Weeping eyes
  • Running noses
  • Heavy breathing
  • Animals off feed
  • Temperature over 39oC


Sick animals should be treated as soon as they are identified with early treatment key to case response. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories should be used in all cases to reduce temperature, improve demeanour and reduce lung inflammation. Antibiotic choice will be specific to farm and will treat secondary bacterial infections.
Successful treatment will cause a quick response, but cattle should be monitored closely for relapse with good records key to identifying recurrent cases. In outbreaks where several calves are affected in a group it may be necessary to treat the whole group as sub-clinical disease is common.


Good management including nutrition and housing are crucial to reducing the risk of pneumonia cases in cattle. Some pneumonia pathogens live within the calf’s respiratory tract and don’t cause disease until the animal is stressed or immunosuppressed. Management and environmental factors that cause stress should be minimised to reduce the risk of disease.


Have you got any cobwebs in buildings? A well-ventilated building will feel fresh with no smells of ammonia or slurry gasses and no cobwebs will be visible. Reducing moisture levels and maximising ventilation are key to reducing the risk of pneumonia in cattle. Reducing moisture levels in the shed could be as straightforward as fixing leaking water troughs or emptying water buckets outside into a drain.
Several options are available to improve ventilation such as fans, removing space boarding, opening doors and gale breakers. Any of our vets would be happy to come out to assess the ventilation in your sheds and work with you to create a plan for improvements. It is also a good opportunity to review youngstock housing and consider submitting an application for the DEFRA calf housing grant.


Good colostrum management is the first key stage in reducing the risk of pneumonia. In all management systems steps to ensure calves receive sufficient good quality colostrum within 6 hours of birth should be taken to reduce the risk of disease. This can vary from tube feeding every calf, supplementing high risk calves or close monitoring of suckling in extensive suckler herds.
Cattle need energy to maintain a healthy immune system at every stage of development. The weather should also be considered with cold, wet, windy conditions increasing an animals energy requirement and the need for additional feed. Increasing the volume of milk fed in dairy and beef systems, offering creep feed to suckler calves are all strategies to improve the energy intakes of animals and reduce the risk of disease.

Ensure trace element levels are correct with no deficiencies or excess supplementation as this can be responsible for impaired immune status. In particular Copper, Cobalt, Selenium and Vitamin E should be examined in a suitable group of youngstock or growing cattle.


Several vaccines are available to target some of the main bacteria and viruses involved in pneumonia cases. Vaccine programmes should be discussed with your vet with diagnostic testing clinical cases or blood sampling youngstock aged 6-9months beneficial to help identify which vaccines will work best on your farm.
Intra-nasal vaccines provide rapid onset of immunity for a shorter duration whereas injectable vaccines take longer to start working, but provide protection for longer. Often a combination of the two works well especially over the housing period to maximise protection and reduce the risk of disease.

Speak to one of our vets to create a vaccine protocol that works for your farm.