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Immune deficiencies have been around a long time in the animal kingdom

by Dr. Fred Conkel — Commentary
| September 10, 2013 1:30 PM

Acquired immune deficiency — AIDS — is a well-recognized, deadly disease of man. Acquired immune deficiency in the animal kindom is an old, but equally deadly problem.

 Livestock animals are born without any antibodies with which to fight disease.  It takes their immune system several weeks to begin to develop antibodies against the bacteria and viruses that the neonate is barraged with each day. During these critical first few weeks of life, the newborn is almost guaranteed to contract a life-threatening disease unless it gets antibodies from an outside source.

 This is much different from the human infant that is normally born with a complement of antibodies to help ward off disease.  The new foal or calf must get its antibody supply from the colostrum (or first milk) of its dam. The animal infant has only about 18 hours to ingest enough colostrum to supply its antibody needs for the next month.  

After approximately 18 hours, the antibody absorbing cells of the newborn’s intestinal lining begin to die and the animal loses its ability to absorb further antibodies. Thus, feeding colostrum to a calf, foal or lamb that is more than hours old will probably be of little benefit in trying to provide any protection against disease. Merely seeing the newborn trying to nurse does not provide assurance that the newborn has ingested enough colostrum to provide for its needs.

 Many young animals are unable to suckle properly due to weakness or a poor suckling reflex. There are a number of mares, cows, ewes and does that do not develop an adequate quantity of colostrum. 

In this case, the newborn is deficient not only of antibodies, but also of the food that he needs to survive.  There are other dams that make enough colostrum, but don’t transfer an adequate quantity of antibodies into the colostrum.  In this case, the newborn may nurse well and be well-fed, but still not get the antibodies it needs to fight disease. 

 So, it is very important to watch the newborn animal closely during those first 18 to 20 hours of life.  It is necessary to know whether the youngster is truly getting enough to eat and if it is gaining in strength and coordination.  

The new foal or calf that is constantly going to the faucet, seemingly without ever getting enough, may have a mother that does not produce enough milk.

 It is always a good idea to check the dam’s udder for colostrum availability and appearance if it is possible to do this without being injured. Otherwise, this should be done by a veterinarian or other qualified person.  

The udder should also be examined for any signs of mastitis, disease that could cause a quick shutdown in milk production.

(Dr. Fred Conkel is the veterinarian of Westgate Clinic.)