Back from the Vet: Clostridial Vaccine Choices

Back from the Vet: Clostridial Vaccine Choices

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You cruise into your local feed store to pick up vaccines for your annual herd vaccinations. There are three or four choices on the shelf labeled for sheep or goats. You remember your trusty herd veterinarian telling you something about Clostridium something or other, but how do you choose which clostridial vaccine is right for your herd? 

There are a variety of clostridial vaccines approved for use in small ruminants. Generally, if a vaccine is approved for use in sheep, it’s safe for use in goats as well. Prior to use, you should always consult with your veterinarian if goats are not approved on label instructions. 

So, what are these clostridial things, and why do goats need to be vaccinated for them? Clostridium are bacteria found within the environment, primarily living in the soil. These bacteria are very hardy and can survive in the soil for a rather long time. Healthy animals can even carry some of these bacteria within their digestive tracts. There are a variety of clostridial bacteria that can infect livestock and cause serious diseases. Clostridium perfringens, Clostridium tetani, Clostridium novyi, Clostridium chauvoei, and Clostridium septicum are all commonly found in clostridial vaccinations of various combinations. 

Tetanus is an infectious disease caused by the pathogenic bacteria Clostridium tetani.

The most important and commonly occurring clostridial diseases in goats are Clostridium perfringens and Clostridium tetani. C. Prefringens has several subtypes, most notably in the U.S. types C and D. These bacteria cause enterotoxemia. Enterotoxemia is seen in kids and can occur in the first few weeks of life, but in unprotected animals can also occur later in life. Type C causes bloody diarrhea and scours and can progress to death. Type D, also known as overeating disease, primarily occurs when diet changes or in heavy milking does. This disease can cause diarrhea or result in sudden death. Treatment of either infection is often unrewarding. However, vaccination prevents infection. It’s recommended to vaccinate bred does 30 days prior to kidding to ensure that sufficient antibodies are present in colostrum. Kids should be vaccinated at 6–8 weeks of age, with a booster vaccination given 3–4 weeks after the initial vaccine. 

Clostridium tetani is the causative agent of tetanus. This bacterium enters the animal through a wound. In livestock, this infection is often associated with the use of elastrator bands for castration. Animals with tetanus have progressive stiffness of their muscles, with a “saw-horse” appearance and difficulty chewing or swallowing. Just as with enterotoxemia, treatment of tetanus is often unrewarding. The same vaccine protocol is recommended for prevention, with vaccination of kids at 6–8 weeks with a booster vaccination in 3–4 weeks. Does should be vaccinated 30 days prior to kidding. 

Clostridium Perfringens and Clostridium tetani are the most common clostridial infections in goats. Because of this, the most commonly recommended vaccination stimulates immunity against these bacteria. The vaccine is often referred to as “CD and T,” referencing the two most common subtypes of C. perfringens and C. tetani. There are several brands of this vaccination, most of which have a label that includes goats in addition to cattle and sheep. 

The other clostridial bacteria can occur in goats but occur much less commonly. Clostridium novyi is the causative agent of black disease. Infection with this bacterium occurs in animals with liver flukes. The migration of the flukes through the liver causes damage where the bacteria can multiply. Generally affecting adults, the infection presents as sudden death of the animal, but animals can also display weakness and recumbency. One of the signs noted in animals after death is the rupture of the small blood vessels in the skin, causing a black appearance. Hence, the name black disease. Management of liver flukes can help prevent infection, but vaccination is also recommended in at-risk animals. 

Clostridium chauvoei is the cause of blackleg. Infection with this bacterium is much less common in sheep and goats than in cattle. In sheep and goats, the bacterium is associated with a wound, similar to tetanus. The infection causes swelling and crepitus (air pocketing) along the muscles of the limbs and body. It particularly affects the hind limbs. It progresses rapidly, and often animals are found dead before illness is noted. Because the muscles are swollen and have pooled blood, they often appear black on examination, thus the name blackleg. Again, treatment is often unrewarding. Though sheep and goats are less commonly affected in the United States versus other countries, there are still some areas where the bacterium is more prevalent, and vaccination is recommended. The vaccine protocol is the same as for all clostridial diseases, with does vaccinated 30 days prior to kidding and kids vaccinated starting at 6–8 weeks. The duration of immunity from this vaccine has been noted to be less in sheep and goats than in cattle, so animals high at risk may require vaccination more frequently. 

Clostridium septicum infection is the cause of malignant edema. Signs of infection in small ruminants are identical to infection with Clostridium chauvoei. Often, animals with C. chauvoei infections will have C. septicum present in the wound after death, making determination of the primary cause difficult. Thankfully, infection with this bacterium is uncommon in most parts of the United States. Vaccination with the same protocol as for the previously listed bacteria can prevent infection. 

Vaccines that stimulate immunity against these additional clostridial bacteria are found in 7-way and 8-way vaccine products. These products also stimulate immunity against Clostridium perfringens. It is important to note that several 7-way and 8-way products will vaccinate for every clostridial infection except tetanus. If you are using one of these products, an additional vaccine must be given to provide tetanus protection. Consulting with your herd veterinarian can help determine if your herd is at increased risk for any of these infections. While the use of the vaccine is not generally harmful, these vaccines are more expensive. If your herd isn’t at risk, the added expense can be unnecessary. 

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