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Home / Livestock

Common diseases affecting dairy cattle

A government veterinarian vaccinates livestock in Naivasha following an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the sub-county. Photo:Antony Gitonga/Standard


Dairy cattle common diseases that affect dairy farming include: Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), Rift Valley Fever, Anthrax, Brucellosis, East Coast Fever (ECF) and Trypanasomiasis.

Others are Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD), Contagious Bovine Pleuro pneumonia (CBPP), Rinderpest and Malignant catarrhal fever.

Proper care of the dairy cattle is needed for maximum production that results in good yield for the farmer to earn good returns from the sale of milk.

This can be done by having knowledge on common pests and diseases that attack dairy cows.

Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD)

It is a highly infectious viral disease that causes losses in production. Animals should be vaccinated every six months against it.

According to livestockkenya.com there exists seven types of FMD viruses in the world, with five reported in Kenya. They are O, A, C, SAT1 and SAT3.

The types do not cross-protect against each other during vaccinations.

FMD can survive in milk and milk products, frozen bone marrow and lymph glands. It remains active in surfaces for days to weeks and survives drying.

It does not affect human beings.

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever and loss of appetite
  • Smacking of lips, chomping of the mouth and teeth grinding
  • Blisters and erosions in the mouth, feet and teats
  • Saliva hanging from the mouth
  • Limping
  • Drastic milk reduction
  • Occasional death in young ones
  • Secondary bacterial infections

It is mainly transmitted through breathing as it is airborne.

Direct or indirect contact with infected animals, direct contact or indirectly through infected water, manure, hay and pasture can also fuel spread of the disease.

Other transmissions include through contaminated animal products such as meat, milk, bones and cheese, contact with contaminated objects such as boots, hands, or clothing.


It is a highly infectious and fatal cattle disease caused by a relatively large spore-forming rectangular shaped bacterium called Bacillus anthracis.

Signs of the illness appear three to seven days after the bacteria produces spores on contact with oxygen which are swallowed or inhaled.

The cattle usually get the disease by swallowing anthrax spores while grazing on pasture contaminated with anthrax spores or inhaling the spores.

Symptoms include:

  • Sudden death, often within two or three
  • Some animals may show trembling and a high temperature
  • Difficulty breathing, collapse and convulsions before death. This usually occurs over a period of 24 hours;
  • After death blood may not clot, resulting in a small amount of bloody discharge from the nose, mouth and other openings


Also known as inflammation of the mammary gland, mastitis is the most common and the most expensive disease of dairy cattle.

Although stress and physical injuries may cause inflammation of the gland, infection by invading bacteria or other microorganisms (fungi, yeasts and possibly viruses) is the primary cause of mastitis.

Infections begin when microorganisms penetrate the teat milk canal and multiply in the mammary gland spreading into the udder, and making the milk unfit for consumption.

The entry of the bacteria into the teats can come via the milk canal from dirty hands, or through small scratches caused by rough milking, tick bites, encounters with thorns etc.

 It is important to clean the teats and the hands very well before milking.

Milk Fever

It is common in high yielding lactating cows just after calving. According to infonet-biovision.org. the disease is caused by a decrease in the levels of ionised calcium in tissue fluids.

  • The disease occurs in five to 10-year-old cows.
  • Caused by a sudden decrease in blood-calcium level, generally within 48 hours after calving.
  • Milk fever can kill an otherwise healthy cow in less than 24 hours if not successfully managed.
  • Friesian and Jersey cows are highly susceptible. 

Symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite, constipation and restlessness, but there is no rise in temperature.
  • Cow staggers while moving
  • Cow feels hot to the touch (fever)
  • Cow will lie down on its side with legs thrust out and head turned back.


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