Rare Genetic Disorder in Cows Could be More Common than Thought

AUSTRALIA - A rare disorder in purebred and crossbred cattle could become more widespread if not properly controlled.
calendar icon 1 April 2016
clock icon 2 minute read

Speaking at the Australian Cattle Veterinarians (ACV) conference, 7 April, Dr Brandon Fraser said that more needs to be known about the condition so it’s not mistaken for something else or leads to unnecessary financial loss to farmers.

“In the past the condition, called Bovine Familial Convulsions and Ataxia (BFCA), has been controlled by harvesting or euthanising the cattle that transmit the disorder. Cattle that are seen to be physically normal may be retained in the herd and transmit the heritable condition.

"But as little is known about the disorder, sometimes culling occurs after an outbreak has already occurred, leading to an unconfirmed diagnosis.

“There’s also a welfare concern if the condition is not properly recognised and an animal is suffering and is not euthanised. It’s important that the condition is not passed on to normal offspring.”

Due to the poor coordination and ataxia caused by the condition many calves drown or receive traumatic injuries.

According to Dr Fraser, the problem is a heritable condition affecting the cerebellum and doesn’t respond to common pharmaceuticals, is sporadic and presents with unusual neurological signs.

“Clinical signs found in calves include loss of fine control of body movements, tremors and intermittent seizures within a few days to months after birth.

"The calves are not able to control the rate, range or force of their extremities resulting in exaggerated almost animated movements. These signs can subside by 12-24 months of age.

"Despite these signs, some calves are not affected and appear healthy. Most affected and normal calves will have normal vision and able to navigate their environment. This makes BFCA difficult to diagnose.”

A single case of BFCA in a purebred Angus calf was reported for the first time in the United States in 1968. A similar condition was also reported in a crossbred Poll Hereford in Australia and in Charolais cattle in the US.

“Until we know more, this disorder might continue to go underdiagnosed,” he said.

Dr Fraser is encouraging vets and farmers to contact him if they suspect BFCA ([email protected]).

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