Kerry Rood DVM


Scours, or diarrhea, is a common problem of young calves. It is defined as a case of diarrhea that requires intervention for more than 24 hours.

Scours are commonly caused by bacteria called E. coli and salmonella, but can also be caused by viruses. E. coli and salmonella respond to antibiotics, but viruses do not.

Losing body water through feces and dehydrating rapidly are the biggest problems for calves. Loss of body water causes weakness and increases the possibility of death. Signs of dehydration are sunken eyes and skin that “tents,” meaning that if you grasp a fold of skin between your fingers, it stays elevated for an extended period of time.


1. Control bacteria with antibiotics.

2. Lower the intake of milk solids to reduce the food available for bacteria to use in the gut.

3. Maintain the calf’s fluid intake by feeding electrolytes to provide ions which help retain fluids in the body.

Giving too many drugs may cause other problems and you won’t know what worked if the calf recovers.

It is important to develop a treatment plan with a veterinarian such as:

1. When scours first occur, cut the amount of milk-replacer solids in half while using the

usual amount of water. Administer recommended scours medications and antibiotics. The earlier you treat the animal, the greater its chances of recovery.

2. If the condition persists for two or three days, eliminate milk replacer and use an electrolyte solution for one or two days. Two formulas are given at the end of this column, or use prepackaged electrolyte mix from a reputable feed company.

3. After administering electrolytes, gradually return the calf to regular feed. However, mix the milk replacer with the electrolyte solution instead of water. Do this for two or three days to build up fluids in the calf.

4. Don’t manage severe cases of scours like those caused by slmonella on your own. Get the help from your veterinarian.

Preventing scours and other diseases

1. Wash calf buckets with hot soapy water and sanitize them with a chlorine solution after each feeding.

2. Assign each calf its own individual pail.

3. Clean calf stalls to keep them dry.

4. Wash hands between treating each calf to prevent the spread of disease.

Sample Electrolyte Formulas

n Formula 1

8 tablespoons dextrose (sugar or white corn syrup)

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon baking soda or sodium bicarbonate

1 gallon warm water

Feed at the rate of 1 pound per 10 pounds of body weight. A 90-pound calf might receive 2.5 pounds of electrolyte solution four times a day. Gatorade contains electrolytes and may be given at a rate of 1 quart per feeding in a nipple pail to scouring calves.

n Formula 2

4 ounces salt (NaCl) 4 ounces

5 ounces potassium chloride (KCl)

5.5 ounces sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3)

4.5 ounces potassium monobasic phosphate (KH2PO4)

Add 1 ounce of the above mixture plus 0.5 pounds of dextrose to 1 gallon warm water. Feed 2-3 pounds of solution four times a day.

Kerry Rood, DVM, teaches at the Utah State University School of Veterinary Medicine. He may be contacted at or 435-797-1882.