Bovis ISSN 2398-2993

Weak calf syndrome

Synonym(s): Fading calves, dummy calves, cachexia

Contributor(s): Mike Reynolds , Tim Potter


  • A weak calf syndrome was first reported in Northern America in 1976.
  • Clinical signs:
    • Calves may be born weak and unable to stand. These animals have a poor prognosis. 
    • More usually calves are born”normal” and will stand but subsequently collapse with hypothermia and die within hours of birth.
  • Etiology: multifactorial: involving trace element, nutritional, infectious disease, environmental, traumatic injuries (such as being laid on) and nutritional and trace element management of the dam.
  • Epidemiology:
    • Usually several cases on a farm.
    • Often several farms affected in a geographic region in a single season.
    • Weak calf syndrome may not occur for several years and then occur as “epidemic” in a region.        


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Further Reading


Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMed Resource.
  • Funnell B J & Hilton W M (2016) Management and prevention of dystocia. Vet Clin North Am Food Anim Pract 32, 511-522 PubMed.
  • Murray C F & Leslie K E (2013) Newborn calf vitality: Risk factors, characteristics, assessment, resulting outcomes and strategies for improvement. Vet J 198, 322-328 PubMed.
  • Lorenz I, Fagan J, More S J (2011) Calf health from birth to weaning. II. Management of diarrhoea in pre-weaned calves. Irish Vet J 64, 1-6 PubMed.
  • Lorenz I (2004) Influence of D-lactate on Metabolic Acidosis and on Prognosis in Neonatal Calves with Diarrhoea. J Vet Med A 51, 425-428 PubMed.
  • Abutarbush S M & Radostits O M (2003) Congenital nutritional muscular dystrophy in a beef calf. Can Vet J 44, 738-739 PubMed.
  • McCoy M A, Smyth J A, Ellis J A & Kennedy D G (1997)Stillbirth/Perinatal Weak Calf Syndrome. Cattle Practice 5, 31-34.
  • Smyth J A, Goodall E A, McCoy M A & Ellis W A (1996) Stillbirth/perinatal weak calf   syndrome: a study of calves with an abnormal thyroid gland. Vet Rec 39, 11-16 PubMed.
  • Smyth J A, McNamee P T, Kennedy D G, McCullough S J, Logan E E & Ellis W A (1992) Stillbirth/perinatal weak calf syndrome: preliminary pathological, microbiological and biochemical findings. Vet Rec 130, 237-240 PubMed.

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