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Copper toxicity causes deaths of cattle and sheep in Scotland

Statistics from

SRUC VS disease Surveillance headlines, December 2018

  • Deaths due to chronic copper toxicity in both cattle and sheep.

  • Ergotism in beef cows due to Claviceps purpurea in late cut silage.

  • Pneumonia due to respiratory syncytial virus in dairy calves.

  • Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a cause of enteritis in weaned lambs.

December 2018 was warm and dry with the mean temperature 1.4°C above the 1981 to 2010 long-term average. Rainfall was above average in parts of the Western Isles but 80 per cent of average across Scotland as a whole. Sunshine figures were good in the east but below average in the west.


Nutritional and metabolic disorders

A five-month-old Holstein bull calf appeared unwell one week after moving farm and died despite treatment with oral fluids, antibiotics and NSAIDs.

The carcase was jaundiced with an orange liver, dark kidneys and evidence of haemoglobinuria. These findings are consistent with intravascular haemolysis and tissue analysis confirmed significantly elevated copper levels in both liver (20,900 µmol/kg dry matter [DM]; reference range 314 to 7800 µmol/kg DM) and kidney (779 µmol/kg DM; reference range 141 to 314 µmol/kg DM). These results were not sufficiently high to trigger mandatory reporting to Food Standards Scotland.

It was advised that the remaining 49 calves in the group were also likely to have excessive hepatic copper stores and be at risk of toxicity.

Generalised and systemic conditions

About this report

This monthly summary is produced for Vet Record by Scotland’s Rural College Veterinary Services (SRUC VS) and is based on reports from its centres in Edinburgh, Perth, St Boswells, Ayr (Auchincruive), Dumfries, Aberdeen, Inverness and Thurso and in collaboration with the Moredun Research Institute.

SRUC VS monthly reports are available online at from the first of every month.

Aberdeen diagnosed ergotism as the cause of distal limb necrosis affecting seven cows from a total of 75 animals running as three separate groups at grass. Ad libitum baled …

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