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Sudden Death in Cattle

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Kim Kelly - MSD


25 November 2021

Fast-growing young animals, and high performing adult cattle, especially those grazing redeveloped pasture, intensive feed systems (clover, chicory, or high sugar grasses), or switching to supplements or crops, are at high risk of being found dead, or sudden death syndrome. 

Common causes of sudden death on NZ farms1:

  • Clostridial diseases(including tetanus, enterotoxaemia, black leg, malignant oedema, 'sudden death syndrome')
  • Bloat
  • Toxic plants
  • Lead poisoning (other heavy metals)
  • Pneumonia
  • Intestinal/organ twists
  • Accident/trauma
  • Acute Salmonella

There are other causes of death such as parasitism or BVD, but most often these animals show symptoms that are seen by farmers before dying. Annoyingly with clostridial disease, the animals with the best growth rates and hence the best individuals, are often found dead!

Getting a diagnosis is key, often via doing a post-mortem, as farmers ofter blame bloat or other accidents when in fact it might be a 'sudden death syndrome' caused by Clostridia species not covered by standard 5-in-1 programmes.

What can be done?

There are plenty of different clostridial vaccines on the market. The table below summarises them all, the bacteria they protect against and the incidence of the disease these bacteria cause in New Zealand.

If you answer yes to any of the statements below, your cattle may be at greater risk of Clostridial disease, especially those not covered by standard 5-in-1 vaccines:

  • Have any unexplained sudden deaths, especially in young fast-growing stock?
  • Excellent stock growth rates?
  • Send replacements away on grazing schemes for high growth rates?
  • Use clover, chicory, or high sugar grasses?
  • Feed stock on crops?
  • Supplementary feed with grain, nuts, etc..?

Vaccination with Covexin 10 provides increased protection against these frustrating deaths. This is the gold-standard 10-way clostridial vaccine which is researched, developed, and manufactured in New Zealand. It is the only vaccine in New Zealand that contains the extra 3 problematic Clostridia species, C. sordellii, C. haemolyticum and. C. perfringens A, as well as the standard 5-in-1 clostridial antigens.


  1. Vermunt, J.J; Malmo, J and Parkinson, T.J (2010) Causes of Sudden Death, Chapter 23 in Diseases of Cattle in Australasia: A comprehensive textbook. New Zealand Veterinary Association Foundation for Continuing Education, Wellington, p 792.

ACVM No: A000934, A000935, A011311, A011766. AVAILABLE ONLY UNDER VETERINARY AUTHORISATION. ACVM No: A9028. Schering-Plough Animal Health Ltd. Phone: 0800 800 543. www.msd-animal-health.co.nz NZ-BOV-211100002 ©2021 Intervet International B.V. All Rights Reserved. 

Ultravac® is a registered trademark of Zoetis NZ Ltd. ACVM No. A003585, A010191, A006935. Coglavax is a registered trademark of Ceva Animal Health (NZ) Ltd. ACVM No: A007528.



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