The 3 Keys To Manage Pinkeye


Leaving out just 1 of these prevention measures can be costly.

Pinkeye is caused when bacterial organisms such as Moraxella bovis or Moraxella bovoculi infect the surface of the eye. Either or both strains can attack. M. bovoculi is the newest discovered strain that causes pinkeye infection. Managing against this costly and painful disease requires a three-pronged approach: 

The first leg of control is vaccination. The best pinkeye vaccines stimulate the production of antibodies in tears that bathe the eye, limit infection and reduce the severity of lesions. To allow adequate development of immunity, vaccinate animals three to six weeks prior to the onset of pinkeye season. Gerald Stokka, DVM, MS, North Dakota State University Extension veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist, emphasizes proper vaccine timing. “We believe the single dose of a pinkeye vaccine given at 60 days of age is going to prevent most of the bacterial infections associated with that vaccine. But that’s not entirely correct. If you're really serious about using a pinkeye vaccine, they need two doses before the fly season comes.”

The second key to preventing pinkeye is fly control because pinkeye can spread rapidly by face flies transporting bacteria from the eyes of one animal to another. In fact, these face flies are able travel significant distances between herds and expose animals to many different strains of Moraxella bovis and/or M. bovoculi. “Some degree of corneal damage is necessary for clinical pinkeye to get started, and face flies cause that damage,” says Lowell Midla, VMD, MS, veterinary technical services manager with Merck Animal Health and a beef cattle producer. Effective fly control requires customization to your production system. “There are many ways to control the flies. For example, the newer fly tags are quite good and can provide fly protection for some time,” said Stokka. 

The third prong, environmental control, is important to point out because grazing in tall, woody grasses can cause scratches on the cornea which will leave an open wound that’s more susceptible to pinkeye. Corneal injury can also happen in closed dairy operations via face flies and the extreme close contact with other animals. “Without corneal damage, you won't get pinkeye. And so, we need to prevent corneal damage above all,” says Midla. Keeping grasses mowed and face flies under control is essential in managing pinkeye outbreaks.  

Working with your veterinarian, you may determine that an autogenous or custom- made vaccine is necessary to stop the spread of a specific bacterium not commonly controlled in broad-spectrum vaccines. However, it is important to continue to use a broad-spectrum vaccine to provide protection against the greatest number of strains of M. bovis and when possible use a vaccine that also protects against M. bovoculi. 

Bottom line, helping your clients prevent pinkeye in as many of their animals as possible with the three-pronged approach to pinkeye management is going to keep more money in their pocket, keep them coming back to you as a trusted adviser and provide a better quality of life for the animals.

For more information on managing pinkeye, visit

For more information on pinkeye vaccination, visit


Sponsored by Merck Animal Health


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