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Help! My cow is producing red urine

Livestock By Dr Othieno Joseph | 10th Aug, 2020

Dear Daktari

I am a dairy farmer and I enjoy your weekly column. Over the past one week, I have noticed one of my dairy cows is producing reddish urine. What could be the problem? The animal looks healthy and milk production has not gone down. My wife says it is because of the carrots but I do not think so... [John Karimi, Meru]

Thank you Karimi for the question and for reading Smart Harvest. You have raised a pertinent issue in livestock keeping – what causes red urine? Reddish urine – some say pinkish or brownish – medically can be termed hematuria or hemoglobinuria. The two result in red colouration of urine but are not synonyms.

Hematuria refers to the presence of whole blood in urine and is associated with causes within the urinary system – from the kidneys, down through the ureters (tubes that drain urine from kidneys) to the bladder where the urine is stored temporary. The urethra (the tube that leads into the penis or vagina for eventual expression – urination) is also affected.

No carrots not to blame

Hemoglobinuria is presence of the red pigment released from red blood cells and this occurs when they are broken down due to causes that are in other body systems other than the urinary tract.

In other words, red urine of whichever origin is a red flag; a clinical sign that requires veterinary intervention within the shortest time possible. Carrots are palatable and have vitamins and high energy levels and have never been documented to cause red urine.

Eating too many carrots (over 16 kgs per animal per day) may cause diarrhoea especially when they are fresh. To avoid this, store them for a while before feeding them to your cows.

However, in rabbits carrots have been shown to change the urine colour to reddish; although this is normally transient and clears with time. Generally, many a times the type of feed taken may affect the colour of not only urine but also faeces and this is purely dietary.

Main causes

There are several causes of red urine; all are related to some ill health. Red urine can be caused by viral or bacterial infection. Common livestock disease that present red urine as one of the clinical signs include leptospirosis, clostridial infections and anthrax. Protozoal and rickettsial diseases like babesiosis, toxoplasmosis trypanosomiasis are also characterised by red urine. All these require urgent medical intervention.  

Injuries

The other cause could be physical and this may include traumatic injuries along the urinary tract or renal calculi (commonly called kidney or bladder stones) that cause internal injuries and bleeding.  Chemical poisoning like lead (mostly consumed in paints when cows lick painted walls or drink from paint containers), arsenic and copper poisoning will also cause red urine. Plants like sweet clover, castor bean and most commonly in Kenya the bracken fern (enzootic heamaturia) cause red urine. Bracken fern poisoning is fatal disease.

Diet

Dietary deficiencies in vitamins and phosphorus, snake venom, deficiency in blood platelets, certain drugs, extreme temperatures too cause red urine. 

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