Professional Veterinary Distributors recommends isotonic fluid replacement for calves affected with infectious scours.

New Zealand veterinarians have been advised that energy content of electrolytes should be one of the major determinants to decide which brand of electrolyte to recommend to farmers for treatment of calves with scours (Schouten 2005). From a technical aspect there is a strong basis of evidence to indicate that this may be hampering recovery of calves with cryptosporidiosis.

Providing calves with higher energy to reduce weight loss while recovering from scours includes

  • use of high energy electrolyte formulations
  • maintenance of feeding of milk to sick calves

However the merit of high energy formulations (compared with isotonic electrolytes) also needs to compare

  • recovery times,
  • the total amount of electrolyte,
  • ease of management (reflecting differences in electrolyte palatability) and/or the possible impact of secondary infections on mortality rates.
  • And that’s before we consider the relative costs between products to full recovery.

An understanding of the underlying physiological responses to infections on the normal development and functioning of the various intestinal compartments is also required.

Palatability is an important criteria that farmers can evaluate for themselves. Isotonic solutions based on bicarbonate without any acetate or citrate have a higher preference by calves. Check the palatability of ENERVADE or KRYPTADE on sick calves especially in those situations with calves with infectious scours. These are associated with more abdominal discomfort. In this instance the palatability of the solution will make a major difference in uptake of an electrolyte.

Milk feeding has been shown to maintain weight. But, this has been shown to be achieved with a significant increase in labour either in management of milk volumes, or the provision of extra tube feeding with electrolytes (for rehydration). High energy (hypertonic) electrolytes may not be optimal for the fastest rate of re-hydration.

The following advice is my own opinion based on an extensive review of all the literature.


  • Early treatment will limit severity of local inflammation, permeability damage and secondary infections.
  • Isotonic fluids will have benefits over hypertonic solutions (high energy) for rehydration.
  • Use more complex nutritionally supplemented ORTs. Target the nutrient supplement for improved performance.
  • Be aware of the risks of secondary infections and the signs indicating their presence. Treat calves not responding as rapidly as their peers with antibiotics.
  • Institute milk feeding as soon as a calf is re-hydrated and there has been a return of appetite. Test calves gently to see if they will take milk.
  • Offer milk in smaller volumes as calves return to appetite approx. 25% of normal volumes – small volumes more frequently e.g. 3 – 4 times daily or more.
  • Alternate fluids and milk feeds until fully recovered.
  • Offer isotonic electrolytes ad lib once a calf is bright and rehydrated. They will self-select the volume required. Ensure fresh, clean water is available at all times.
  • For individual calf treatment for earlier recovery consider the newer drug groups. See your Veterinarian for advice.

Bruce Pauling B.V.Sc.

Note: ENERVADE and KRYPTADE are isotonic solutions.