At the recent American Association of Bovine Practitioners, one veterinarian shared practice tips on saving sick calves and I thought there was a really good brief summary published in Bovine Veterinarian. First of all, an early diagnosis is critical to saving these calves because once they are severely dehydrated, have a low blood pH, or advanced signs of pneumonia, the chance of saving them is poor, and even if they can be saved many times they never grow well. For dehydration, use an effective oral electrolyte solution that includes sodium, potassium, and acetate at a moderate concentration called osmolality.
Remember that the calf is at least 6-7% dehydrated before you can even determine the calf is dehydrated. Because of this, a couple of pints of oral electrolyte solution is not enough to help this situation or even 2 quarts of intravenous or subcutaneous fluids. If you have a 100-pound calf, that calf needs at least 4-6 liters of electrolyte solution the first day to correct the dehydration and supply enough fluids for that day’s maintenance.
If the calf is down and cannot rise, oral electrolyte solutions are unlikely to be effective or to correct the low blood pH, and intravenous fluids are required. This is the reason to monitor these calves closely and treat them early before IV fluids are required, which is more expensive. To correct the blood pH in a calf that is down, it is recommended to give sodium bicarbonate intravenously in the iv fluids. It is also important to get the calf back on milk as soon as possible because this is the best source of energy.
If you have pneumonia in lots of calves, it is a good idea for your vet to take cultures to determine the organism involved to select the most effective antibiotic.