About Pinkeye in Cattle

Pinkeye losses can exceed $100 per incidence in beef cattle

Infectious bovine keratoconjunctivitis, more commonly known as pinkeye in cattle, is a contagious bacterial infection of the eye. Pinkeye is caused when bacterial organisms such as Moraxella bovis infect the surface of the eye. Multiple strains of Moraxella bovis have been identified, each capable of creating pinkeye in cattle. The surface of the bacteria has hair like structures known as pili, which extend from the main body of the bacteria. The pili allow the bacteria to attach to the conjunctiva of the cornea and colonize, causing inflammation of the tissue lining of the eyelid and the eyeball itself. Ultimately, the cornea may become ulcerated, resulting in pain and possible blindness.

While bacterial organisms like Moraxella bovis are the root cause of pinkeye in cattle, face flies are the primary vector responsible for spreading the bacteria from animal to animal. Face flies travel from animal to animal. They feed on the watery tearing from cattle's eyes. When they do so they spread the bacteria that can cause pinkeye from animal to animal. Since face flies can visit several animals a day they can rapidly spread the pinkeye bacteria throughout a herd.

Seed heads, dust, pollen and UV light are environmental factors that can increase trauma to the eyes of cattle. These irritants can scratch the cornea of the eye and allow for easier attachment of the Moraxella bovis bacteria. Traumatized eyes will result in an increase in the tearing of the eye; increasing the attraction of the face flies that can spread the pinkeye causing bacteria.

This is why fly control and environmental management are key components of a pinkeye prevention plan.

Pinkeye in cattle easily costs producers an average of $100 a head due to reduced weight gain, added treatment costs and discounts on sale day. University research has shown that pinkeye can reduce weaning weights in calves as much as 40 to 60 pounds.

Further research has shown that animals with pinkeye are discounted an average of $11.75 per hundred pounds of body weight when the animals are sold at auction. Pinkeye costs producers money two different ways. Calves that get pinkeye gain less and are worth less per pound when sold.