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Signs & Symptoms of Pneumonia in Cattle

| Updated August 11, 2017

Two types of pneumonia -- viral and bacterial -- affect bovines. The two pathogens often work in concert, with the virus striking first and the bacterial illness following. An animal stricken with pneumonia may die soon after exhibiting severe signs and symptoms, or recover but suffer from permanent lung damage. Such cattle can serve as a source of infection to others in the herd.

Any bovine is susceptible to pneumonia, but calves are particularly vulnerable. Pneumonia is an emergency. Call your vet at the first sign of any respiratory illness, as early treatment offers the best prognosis. Prevention is even better -- vaccinate your stock annually against some of the major causes of pneumonia.

Viral Causes

The initial offenders in bovine pneumonia include:

  • Parainfluenza.
  • Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis.
  • Bovine respiratory syncytial virus.
  • Bovine viral diarrhea virus.
  • Adenovirus.
  • Herpesvirus.
  • Rhinovirus. 
  • Enterovirus. 

Fortunately, vaccines, often in combination forms, are available to protect your stock from many of these viruses.

Bacterial Culprits

The most common bacteria causing pneumonia in cattle include Pasteurella multocida and Mannheimia haemolytica. Recently weaned calves or debilitated cattle are the most susceptible to these germs.

Bacterial Pneumonia Symptoms

Prior to exhibiting actual pneumonia symptoms, an affected animal may experience a viral respiratory tract infection. Once pneumonia sets in, these symptoms get much worse.

  • Cows with bacterial pneumonia spike fevers.
  • The sick animal develops rapid, shallow breathing, possibly open-mouthed.
  • A thick nasal and eye discharge occurs, accompanied by a moist cough.
  • The animal stops eating.

Pneumonia Treatment

Antibiotics are the primary treatment for bacterial pneumonia. Long-term injectable antibiotics used for treating the disease and requiring a prescription include:

  • Enrofloxacin, marketed as Baytril.
  • Oxytetracycline, available under the trade name Tetradure.
  • Tulathromycin, marketed under the trade name Draxxin.
  • Ceftiofur, sold under the name Excede and injected under the ear skin.
  • Danoflaxcin, also known as A180.

Oral antibiotics are less effective but can be useful when pneumonia is caught early. Chlortetracycline, available over the counter, is one option, but don't medicate your animal without veterinary consultation. Penicillin is not an option for treating pneumonia in cattle.


  • Some antibiotics are illegal to use in dairy cows. If you have milk cows, ask your vet about the best antibiotics to use that are effective and legal.