State Fair season is among us, and with it the necessity for those showing livestock to take all prudent steps to ensure their animal’s well-being.
“Diseases have always threatened to damper livestock shows so it should go without saying that exhibitors should never bring animals to the fair if they are showing any symptoms of illness,” said Dr. Barry Whitworth, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension veterinarian and food animal quality and health specialist.
Swine diseases including swine flu, Seneca Valley virus and porcine epidemic diarrhea virus have been and continue to be a concern for exhibitors. The highly pathogenic avian influenza virus also continues to occasionally be a problem in the United States, while equine herpes virus is still causing problems at horse events.
“The reason these diseases create such a problem is that they are either zoonotic, mimic other more devastating diseases such as foot and mouth disease or could be economically devastating to the food production industry,” Whitworth said.
For instance, the clinical signs of Seneca Valley virus in swine cannot be differentiated from foot and mouth disease. If a pig is found to be lethargic, with blisters on the snout or feet, and has an increase in body temperature, the state veterinarian would treat the pig as infected with foot and mouth disease until proven otherwise. This most likely would force an interruption or possibly even cancellation of the show.
With this in mind, each exhibitor should take the time to do a health check on their animals before taking them to the fair. First, employ the BAR method: Is the animal bright, alert and responsive?
“The BAR method evaluates the mental capacity of an animal,” Whitworth said.
Does the animal respond to stimulus? When you rattle a feed bucket, does the animal raise its head and come to eat or does it act as though it does not care? In the latter case, the animal may be ill.
“Examine the hair coat,” Whitworth said. “The hair coat should be slick and shiny. If the coat appears rough or dirty, it may be a sign the animal does not feel well enough to groom itself. Areas of hair loss may be indications of a skin infection such as ringworm or an external parasite infection such as mites or lice.”
An animal’s respiration also should be monitored. Breathing should be neither labored or loud, and there should be a nice rhythm to their respiration.
“If the animal is breathing as though it had just run a 100-yard dash, chances are there is a problem,” Whitworth said. “Excessive noise during respiration could indicate pneumonia or an obstruction in the airways.”
And yes, it is a good idea to join the Poop Police, looking for clues in the animal’s urination and defecation. Urine should appear slightly yellow in color and clear. If the urine is dark or red, this could indicate and bladder or kidney infection.
“Animals that are constantly attempting to urinate, dribbling urine or appear to be in pain while urinating may have a urinary infections or stones,” Whitworth said. “Exhibitors should observe the tail of their animals for accumulation of fecal material. Excessive buildup of feces on the tail indicates diarrhea, which often indicates a digestive problem.”
Mobility of an animal can be another tipoff. All animals should walk normally. If an animal favors a foot or is reluctant to move, this indicates pain. The foot should be examined for any abnormalities.
Also, examine the nasal passages and eyes for discharges. If an animal has increased mucus or tears from the nose or eyes, this could indicate an infection, especially if the discharge is white or yellow. Whitworth said healthy animals will have a moist nose and eyes that are clear.
“Exhibitors should look for bumps or swellings on their animals,” he said. “These could indicate enlarged lymph nodes. Lymph nodes increase in size with infections. Also, lumps may indicate an abscess that needs attention.”
Be aware sheep and goats with enlarged lymph nodes may have caseous lymphadenitis, which is contagious to other sheep and goats. The chronic disease is found worldwide but varies by region and country. The disease is characterized by abscess formation in or near the major peripheral lymph nodes or within internal organs and lymph nodes. Although both the external and internal forms of the disease occur in sheep and goats, the internal is more common in sheep and the external is more common in goats.
“As always, loss of appetite is a good way to figure out if animal is feeling under the weather,” Whitworth said. “Animals are usually ready to eat. Loss of appetite is often one of the earliest indications of an illness.”
Animal Well-Being is Job One
If an exhibitor finds problems with one or more of the above areas, this does not mean the animal cannot go to the fair, but it would be a good idea to have a veterinarian examine the animal first. An examination will determine if an infection is present and needs treatment.
“This will go a long way in preventing an unwanted outbreak of a disease at this year’s fairs,” Whitworth said, “and remember to isolate a show animal from others on the property for 30 days. All show equipment, feed and water buckets, trailers and vehicles should be washed and disinfected.”
Post-fair management does not end there. Any towels, blankets and clothes should be washed. All footwear will need to be cleaned and disinfected. Everyone who attended the fair should shower before having any contact with the rest of the animals on the property.
“Exhibitors should watch their animals closely for any signs of illness once they have returned home, in case the animals caught something at the fair,” Whitworth said. “If any animal gets sick, exhibitors should contact their local veterinarian immediately.”
The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service is one of two state agencies administered by OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, and is a key part of the university’s state and federally mandated teaching, research and Extension land-grant mission.