United Kingdom

Respiratory Disease

Bovine respiratory disease damages an animal’s respiratory tract and lungs, reducing its ability to breath. At its worse, the damage can be so great it results in death. However, at all levels, the disease can reduce feed intake, feed conversion rates and affect subsequent weight gain.

There are many factors that may be involved in an outbreak:


Respiratory disease can be caused by a variety of infectious agents (viruses, bacteria, parasites) but the majority of outbreaks start with a virus. The key viruses are Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), Parainfluenza 3 Virus (PI3v), Bovine Herpes Virus 1 (commonly known as Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis or IBR) and Bovine Viral Diarrhoea virus (BVDv).


Calves carrying the viruses spread infection as they breathe. During housing the herd’s exposure is increased due to close contact between animals and the fact that viruses circulate in the stale air in the shed. Stressful times such as weaning and housing can also lower calves’ resistance to respiratory disease.

Environmental Stress

The weather plays a major part in respiratory disease outbreaks, particularly extremes of heat or cold or very still, muggy days. High dust levels can cause irritation to the respiratory tract, therefore practices such as chopping straw can exacerbate disease.

Nutritional Stress

Nutritional stressors such as weaning, high grain based diets, diet changes, poor quality feed, poor access to clean water and a lack of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) can all increase susceptibility to respiratory disease.

Management Stressors

Weaning and transport can create stresses that lead to a greater susceptibility to disease. Mixing of different age groups should be avoided, if possible, to prevent spread of infection from older to younger, more susceptible calves.

Bought-in cattle may carry infection which can spread to the home stock.

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