Dr Liz Hancock
It’s that time of year again when the sun is shining, birds are singing, flies are buzzing, and of course eyes are starting to weep from pink eye.
Pink eye typically occurs in young stock such as heifers from November through to March, but this year we have experienced unseasonal pinkeye throughout winter. Pink eye is caused by the bacterium Moraxella bovis of which there are several strains, and is spread between animals by flies or contact with shared surfaces. It often causes an ulcer on the eyes surface (cornea) which is particularly painful and can lead to partial or complete blindness in severe cases, along with production losses from associated poor growth.
Pink eye can be prevented using the vaccine Piligard, however for best results we recommend integrated management which includes fly control, minimising yarding, minimising dust, and avoiding grass seeds in pasture or hay. Piliguard is best administered 3-6 weeks prior to the onset of the pink eye season. If it is a prolonged summer then a booster dose may be administered 5 months following the initial vaccination.
If you see an animal with symptoms of pink eye such as shut eyelids, weeping, a white raised lesion on the eye surface, or redness of the eye then it is recommended that you restrain the head for a thorough examination. This involves using clean fingers to evert the eyelids and check for grass seeds. If a grass seed is found in numerous animals then this is probably not contagious pinkeye and management changes should be considered which may involve pasture, hay, and feeding methods. If no grass seed is found and numerous animals are affected then you are likely dealing with contagious pink eye caused by Moraxella bovis.
Treatment of affected eyes involves examination and removal of any grass seeds, followed by the application of an antibiotic eye ointment. To do this evert the lower eyelid and place a line of ointment between the eye surface and the lower eyelid, probably a quarter of a tube. Eyes are best treated every 48 hours for three treatments, however if this is impractical then an eye patch may be applied which will protect the eye from further damage and discomfort from dust, flies, and sunlight. It is important to use a specific eye ointment such as Opticlox rather than dry cow antibiotic therapies as the antibiotic in Opticlox is mixed with a compound which encourages the antibiotic to remain at active levels at the eyes surface for 48 hours. Other options also available include the use of long acting systemic antibiotics which may be much easier from a management perspective, as well as surgical closure of the eyelids for particularly bad cases. Veterinary advice should be sought for these treatment options.
If you have any questions regarding pink eye then please contact Farm Services 1300 838 700 for a chat with one of our veterinarians and we will be happy to tailor a management program specifically to your situation.
Pink eye prevention key points
- Fly control – Flies spread pink eye so reducing the number of flies around your herd will help reduce the spread of pink eye
- Minimise yarding – Contact with shared surfaces spreads pink eye so minimise yarding to reduce the opportunity for contact
- Minimise dust – Dust and foreign bodies can damage the surface of the eye which facilitates the penetration of the bacterium into the cornea
- Vaccination – Vaccinate with Piliguard pink eye vaccine 3-6 weeks prior to the onset of the pink eye season (NOW). If it is a prolonged summer then a booster dose may be administered 5 months following the initial vaccination.
- Call Farm Services – Have a chat with one of our veterinarians for a management program tailored specifically to your situation