In Summary
  • Two weeks ago, I encountered a perplexing case in Kamulu, Machakos County. David reported one of his Friesian dairy cows had breathing difficulties and had been under treatment for the previous four days.
  • On arrival, I noticed the animal was lying on the left side but the eyes were alert. It had deep strained breathing but the mucous membranes were healthy pink.
  • Having suspected rabies, I briefed the farm manager, his team and David on phone and informed him that I would not be giving any treatment to the cow.
  • There are a number of diseases that cause nervous signs in cattle such as what David’s cow exhibited. They include the brain form of red water, heart water, a bacterial infection called listeriosis, mad cow disease and a tapeworm that affects the brain.

It is not always that the doctor would diagnose a disease, give treatment and the patient is up and running.

This is particularly complicated with animals, where sophisticated medical equipment cannot be routinely used for diagnosis. In any case, such equipment may not even exist because of costs and the kind of environments they are supposed to operate in.

Most of the farm animal diseases are thus diagnosed by clinical examination and limited laboratory analysis. If cases are severe enough and laboratory diagnosis shows that the sick animal is a risk to humans and other animals, then full-scale investigation is carried out.

Two weeks ago, I encountered a perplexing case in Kamulu, Machakos County. David reported one of his Friesian dairy cows had breathing difficulties and had been under treatment for the previous four days. The incident had started as a drop in milk yield, followed by poor appetite before the animal completely went off feed.

The cow was treated by a local service provider and it appeared to be getting well but deteriorated on the third day.

On my way to the farm, I discussed the cow’s case with Dan, who had treated the cow. I confirmed he was a paravet licensed by the Kenya Veterinary Board. He told me he had diagnosed red water, gull sickness and pneumonia four days earlier and given treatment. I was satisfied with the treatment he had given based on his diagnosis.

However, on the third day, he was told the cow was breathing heavily and had stopped eating completely. He went and treated the animal further for pneumonia and asked David to call me.

On arrival, I noticed the animal was lying on the left side but the eyes were alert. It had deep strained breathing but the mucous membranes were healthy pink. The eyes were watering and there was heavy salivation with some foam.

The lips and nose kept twitching menacingly, as though the cow wanted to bite something. I put a piece of wood between the teeth and she bit it hard.

The farm manager told me the cow had shown weakness of the hind legs and hind quarters before going down. The temperature was 36.7 degrees Centigrade, which is lower than the normal 38.2. This was an indication that the cow’s body was shutting down.

DISPOSING OF THE CARCASS

The heart beat was rapid and weak while the breathing sounds were harsh. The cow exhibited signs of a nervous condition that was not clear to me. However, the heavy salivation, tearing, menacing twitching of the lips and biting of the piece of wood led me to suspect the cow could have been suffering from rabies.

Having suspected rabies, I briefed the farm manager, his team and David on phone and informed him that I would not be giving any treatment to the cow.

I told him the animal was close to dying and the head would need to be severed, packaged properly and delivered to the National Veterinary Research Laboratories at Kabete for rabies testing. I would also take a blood sample for microscopic examination.

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