Respiration – a basic ingredient of life

Written by Kevin B.H. Teh (DVM)

The term respiration denotes the exchange of the respiratory gases between any animal and the medium in which it lives, and between the cells of the body and the tissue fluid that bathes them.

Through breathing, the respiratory system facilitates the exchange of gases between the air and the blood, and between the blood and the animal body’s cells.

The animal respiratory system is a series of organs responsible for taking in oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide. The primary organs of the respiratory system are the lungs, which carry out this exchange of gases as the animal breathes.  The most important function of the lungs is to take oxygen from the environment and transfer it to the bloodstream.

All animals need oxygen to sustain themselves. After a few minutes without oxygen, brain cells begin dying, which can lead to brain damage and ultimately death.

Warning signs of respiratory ailment

Among diseases, the respiratory ones are most common in cattle. Respiratory diseases can affect any part of the respiratory system, from the upper respiratory tract and down into the alveoli.

The development of respiratory disease in cattle is dependent upon the response of the animal to various factors acting either independently or collectively.

Though one microorganism may be the primary invader, most respiratory infections are complicated by the presence of secondary or opportunist microorganisms. Undeniably, these secondary microorganisms may be those which cause the most severe lesions or result in a fatal outcome.

It’s not too late

Every year, respiratory disease continues to cause serious economic losses in dairy and beef cattle production. Many factors including stress, animal management and the environment play a role in respiratory diseases. Cattle in crowded or dusty pens, sheds with poor ventilation and lengthy transportation of animals are all factors that may contribute to the development of respiratory disease.  Resulting economic losses include decreased performance, increased production costs due to loss of herd health, additional labour hours, poorer carcass quality, and even animal mortality.

Breathe easy

Prevention of respiratory disease relies on good herd management to reduce cattle stress and factors contributing to disease. Successful control of respiratory disease includes early detection and isolation of sick animals and proper treatment under the supervision of a veterinarian. For the health and well-being of the animals, it is important that treatment is given when necessary, using the most appropriate medication, dose rate and method of application.

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