What is the treatment for joint illness in calves?

Navel ill is a term that describes several conditions affecting the umbilicus (navel cord). The navel cord contains blood vessels that supply the calf with oxygen and nutrients during gestation. At birth, when the navel cord is broken, these vessels constrict and “dry up,” but there is a period of time initially that these vessels are open to the environment and can allow bacterial contamination to enter. In the worst case, the bacteria can spread throughout the calf’s body through the bloodstream causing severe illness and often death. Sometimes, the bacteria settle in the joints of the calf causing severe infections of the joints later in life. This condition is called “joint ill.” In less severe cases, the infection is localized to the navel cord only and results in an umbilical infection and abscess. Antibiotic treatment and drainage of the abscess will often clear this infection. Sometimes, an associated umbilical hernia occurs with these infections. This condition is initiated by exposure to wet, muddy, and/or unsanitary conditions at birth, resulting in contamination of the navel cord before it can close. No effective means are available to treat the cow or calf to prevent this from happening. Prevention centers around ensuring the calf is born in as clean and dry an environment as possible. If calving stalls are routinely used, they need to be well bedded and cleaned between use. Historically, dipping or spraying the navel cord with iodine-type disinfectants at birth has been used, but success is questionable. If a calf is born with one joint larger than the other, then the cause should be investigated by a veterinarian. Better yet, to prevent navel ill, assure that calves are born in a sanitary environment and thoroughly apply strong iodine to the navel at birth.