Milk fever has been recognised in cattle for about 215 years and its clinical signs have not changed since they were described by Victorian veterinary surgeons in the mid-nineteenth century. It was only 80 years ago that abnormal parathyroid gland function was associated with the pathogenesis of the hypocalcaemia characteristic of the disease, and the current basis for its treatment with intravenous calcium salts was established. Although this treatment is effective, most recent research has focused on preventing the disease through an understanding of the endocrine control of extracellular calcium homeostasis. In the 1970s the synthetic vitamin D analogue 1α-hydroxycholecalciferol was developed for intramuscular injection before a cow calved, but variable results encouraged other preventive strategies to be considered, including restricting the dietary intake of calcium, and manipulating the dietary cation-anion balance of cows before they calved. Currently, the role of extracellular calcium receptors in the parathyroid gland is under investigation as a preliminary step to devising more effective treatments and/or preventive methods for milk fever.
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