How to Pick the Best Electrolyte for Your Calves
Pardon the pun, but dealing with scours can be a real pain in the butt. It’s frustrating, it’s costly, and it can be downright messy at times.
According to Joe Armstrong, DVM and extension educator at the University of Minnesota, scours is the leading cause of death in calves under one month of age, particularly because of the dehydration it causes. Though we do our best to prevent it from occurring, it’s bound to strike your calf operation at some point. Therefore, it’s important to choose the right oral electrolyte to help keep calves hydrated.
“Dehydration is what kills calves and correcting with supplemental electrolytes is the most crucial part of any treatment protocol,” Armstrong says. But unfortunately, not all oral electrolyte solutions are created equal.
According to Robert Corbett, DVM and President at Dairy Health Consultation, a well-formulated oral electrolyte solution includes:
- Sodium Concentration: 90 to 130 mmol/L
- Chloride: 40 to 80 mEq/L
- Potassium: 10 to 30 mmol/L
- Osmolality: 500 to 600 mOsm/L
- Strong Ion Difference: 60 to 80 mEq/L
- One or more alkalizing agents: bicarbonate, acetate, propionate
- Glucose: 2 to 3 grams per kg body of the calf
- Glucose, neutral amino acids and volatile fatty acids to facilitate sodium absorption
“Most individuals responsible for treating sick calves understand the importance of rehydrating the calf and are generally familiar with oral electrolyte solutions,” Corbett says. “However, choosing which oral electrolyte to use is often based on price or the recommendation of an animal health professional. In times of tight margins, most operations opt to use less expensive products.”
Though oral electrolyte solutions can be similar, the ingredients in electrolytes are often expressed in different ways, making it next to impossible to read the labels and compare products. While it sounds easy to ask for your veterinarian’s recommendation, Corbet notes that most veterinarians have not been trained on the correct formulation of electrolyte products, so they are not able to easily advise their clients on the best product for their calves.
Basically, when choosing the best oral electrolyte, it comes down to ingredient formulation and trial and error. Do your homework and find a solution with the ingredients listed above, follow the product instructions, then note how calves respond.