In Summary
  • It is unusual for cattle to have regular bouts of unexplained collapse but then that was what was happening with Kimani’s calf.
  • Animal bodies also contain many different chemicals that carry out the various visible and invisible functions of the bodies.
  • There is also the issue of developmental deficiencies that may occur in biological systems during pregnancy and may or may not correct during the early stages of neonatal life.
  • There is not much research done on fainting in cattle because it is not a common occurrence in the species.

The calf looked normal when I arrived at the farm in Mwimuto. There were no signs of sickness but the farmer told me a few minutes before, the four-month-old heifer calf looked like it was on its last breath.

It had suddenly collapsed and remained still for about three minutes. That was the third or fourth time the calf had collapsed in the last one month.

Kimani, the calf owner, told me the animal had been treated several times but the collapse episodes had continued.

“Doctor, do you think this calf can infect the other cows; and in any case what disease is this?” he asked as I entered the pen to examine the patient.

As a matter of operational policy, I never give answers before examining the patient. Body parametres such as the temperature, heart rate, respiration or breathing rate, the tone and intensity of heart and lung sounds among others give loads of information upon which I am able to diagnose diseases.

By collecting all the information presented by the various parameters, I am able to create a mental checklist for the diseases that could contribute to the manifestations I observe during examination. In medical terms, that is known as differential diagnosis abbreviated as DDx.

DDx helps me to zero in on a specific disease or a number of related diseases that have to be finally differentiated using diagnostic tests such as laboratory blood analysis or microscopic examination.

When I completed examining Kimani’s calf, I was not any closer to a diagnosis than when I started. The animal’s parametres were all normal.

I revisited the history of the calf and Kimani reiterated that the calf had not had any incident at all that could cause collapse.

The calf had been born normally, fed enough milk and now had been weaned on nutritious calf pellets and good quality grass.

DISEASE CONTROL PROTOCOL

It is unusual for cattle to have regular bouts of unexplained collapse but then that was what was happening with Kimani’s calf.

From my very thorough examination, there was not the slightest hint of the cause of the syncope. In medical terms, syncope is the partial or complete loss of consciousness that lasts sometime before recovery.

Kimani informed me some blood had been collected from the animal by one animal health service provider but the results of analysis were said to have been normal.

For sure, this case of a fainting calf was giving me a run for my knowledge.

Having not been able to find any cause that could be attributed to the fainting spells, I advised Kimani to keep the calf but dispose of it if the frequency of fainting increased to a level where the calf was suffering.

The calf was also to be kept in a pen alone and with no objects that could cause it injury when it collapsed. Care was to be taken not to scare the calf. I never heard from Kimani again until last week when he called me to treat one of his cows for reduced appetite.

“Don’t tell me you still have this fainting lady around,” I told Kimani when I saw a grown up heifer with the colour distribution of the calf I had seen last year. Kimani animatedly narrated what transpired with the calf.

He told me after my visit, he tried to sell off the calf but butchers’ offers were miserable. The calf progressively reduced the frequency of fainting and stopped altogether within three months. Since then she had not fainted again.

“She is not one of the sick cows today,” he concluded.

I could not resist examining the heifer, though she was not sick. Under such circumstances, I always start with the healthy animals to avoid infecting them with germs from the sick ones. It is a disease control protocol that sounds simple but is very important.

The calf was in good health and ready to start breeding. “Do you think I should breed this heifer doctor considering her fainting history?” Kimani was on the heifer’s case again.

INHERITED DISEASE CONDITION

I confirmed to him he could breed the heifer and observe what happened to her calves. If the calves also developed fainting episodes, then it would be advisable to dispose of the calves and their mother to avoid propagating an inherited disease condition.

The question that still begged for an answer was, “Why was the calf fainting and how did she get spontaneous healing?”

Biological systems are complex and most of the time they repair themselves naturally. Again in the environment, there are myriads of invisible organisms called microorganisms that interact with the bodies of animals around them or in which they live.

The interactions cause no disease at all, mild disease that resolves without treatment or serious disease that has to be treated with medicines or physical means such as washing.

Animal bodies also contain many different chemicals that carry out the various visible and invisible functions of the bodies.

The chemicals in coordination with both external and internal environmental factors mediate the function of nerves.

Abnormalities with these chemicals may result in both observable and unobservable characteristics of body function.

There is also the issue of developmental deficiencies that may occur in biological systems during pregnancy and may or may not correct during the early stages of neonatal life.

YOUR CALL IS TO SAVE

Finally, damage to biological systems may arise during birth or during the cause of neonatal life.

Kimani’s calf could have been fainting for any of the many reasons that I and the other doctors who had examined the patient were unable to uncover.

The good news, however, was that the calf appeared to have healed naturally and apparently reverted to full body function.

There is not much research done on fainting in cattle because it is not a common occurrence in the species.

Furthermore, when it happens, it is usually possible to diagnose the cause of the problem as a disease process or physical injury.

There is the “fainting goat” which is a result of genetic deficiency but I have never seen another case of a fainting calf without any diagnosed cause.

As I left Kimani’s farm, the fainting calf reminded me of the complexity of biological systems and how much we, biological scientists, are yet to understand about them.

The words of my medicine professor also rang clear in my mind, “Go out and practice but always remember, do not be hasty to condemn animal lives; your call is to save them.”