UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Using behaviour to identify sickness and to evaluate treatment in ill transition dairy cows Lomb, Julia Carina


Dairy cows are at high risk of becoming ill with metabolic and inflammatory diseases during the transition period, considered the 3 weeks before and 3 weeks after calving. In many species, behavioural changes induced through the inflammatory process and modulated through neuro-endocrine pathways have been described, including for example, anorexia, decreased activity and decreased social interactions. Such changes in behavior have typically been referred to as ‘sickness behaviours’; an area of study that has seen increased interest in dairy cattle as a way of identifying sick cows and evaluating the effect of treatment. The goal of my thesis was to explore sickness-associated behavioural changes in transition dairy cows, and how these changes are affected by treatment. Chapter 1 summarizes current literature on the factors that contribute to the high disease risk for transition cows, followed by a summary on sickness behaviours in general, and in dairy cows specifically. Data for all research chapters were derived from one study. Chapter 2 examined the effects that treatment with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (meloxicam) had on the behaviour of dairy cows with metritis; the results did not reveal a clear benefit of meloxicam treatment. Chapter 3 described differences in behaviours at the lying stall between primiparous cows with metritis and healthy cows. The results showed that, in the 3 days before metritis diagnosis, cows with metritis spent more time standing fully in the stall and had more aborted lying events. Chapter 4 identified behavioural differences between cows with fever (but without clinical disease) and healthy cows with normal body temperature. The observed differences in this third study were in line with sickness behaviours previously described in other species; for example, cows with fever consumed less feed, spent less time feeding and engaged in fewer social interactions at the feed bunk. Collectively, the results of my thesis contribute to our knowledge of sickness behaviours in dairy cows and support the idea that these behavioural changes can help to identify sick cows early and to evaluate treatment efficacy. The results may also provide a basis for targeted research on the environmental needs of ill cows.

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