Bovis ISSN 2398-2993

Milk Fever

Synonym(s): Hypocalcemia

Contributor(s): Alastair Macrae , Keith Cutler

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Introduction

  • Cause:
    • Milk fever is the common name used to describe hypocalcemia in cattle.
    • It is a metabolic disease associated with low blood calcium levels.
  • Signs: see below.
  • Diagnosis: history, clinical signs, blood biochemistry and response to treatment.
  • Treatment: intravenous calcium supplementation.
  • Prognosis: good, in uncomplicated cases.
Print off the Farmer Factheet Milk fever to give to your client.

Pathogenesis

Pathophysiology

  • Follow this link for details on the homeostatic mechanisms involved in calcium metabolism by the cow and the factors that can influence this process Calcium and phosphorus: overview.
  • In summary, only 1% of the total body calcium is in a form which is immediately available to the cow. Thus the cow is heavily reliant on the homeostatic mechanisms involved in regulating blood calcium levels.
  • Parathyroid hormone (PTH), 1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol (calcitriol) and calcitonin are the key hormones involved in the regulation of blood calcium levels.
  • Immediately after calving, these homeostatic mechanisms are under increased pressure to release calcium from the skeleton and/or increase gut absorption to meet the high calcium requirements of the cow to produce colostrum/milk. 
  • These processes take 2-3 days to become fully active, and if these processes fail to meet the cow’s calcium demands in time, hypocalcemia will occur.
  • Hypocalcemia affects muscular contraction due to the requirement of calcium for membrane stabilization in peripheral nerves, release of acetylcholine at the neuromuscular junction and contraction of muscle cells.
  • Thus hypocalcemia will lead to flaccid paralysis of skeletal muscles (resulting in recumbency), smooth muscle (resulting in gut stasis and bloat) and cardiac muscle (reduction in cardiac output).

Diagnosis

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Treatment

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Prevention

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Outcomes

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Goff J P (2000) Pathophysiology of calcium and phosphorous disorders. Vet Clin North Am Food Anim Pract 16 (2), 319-337 PubMed.
  • Green M J & Bradley A J (2000) Managing the dry period to prevent hypocalcaemia in dairy cows. UK Vet 5 (1), 35-39.

Other sources of information

  • Macrae A I & Esslemont R J (2015) The prevalence and cost of important endemic diseases and fertility in dairy herds in the UK. In: Bovine Medicine. 3rd Edition. Ed. Cockcroft P D. Chapter 33. pp 325-337. Wiley Blackwell, Oxford.


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