Vets aim to halt spread of cattle mange

Vets and researchers are seeking the help of cattle farmers to prevent the spread of psoroptic mange into Scotland.

The cattle skin disease, which is caused by mites that pierce the skin to feed, is believed to have come to Britain from Europe and is now established in Wales and south-west England.

Vets at SAC and scientists at the Moredun Research Institute are working together to halt the possible spread into Scotland and are seeking the cooperation of farmers and vets.

SAC is offering free analysis of skin samples from suspected cases, while MRI researchers are developing a novel blood test to uncover hidden infection –a test which has already proved successful in diagnosing sheep scab.

Farmers are being urged to be vigilant, to take care when buying in cattle and contact their vet if they suspect they have a problem.

Although there is no direct link, psoroptic mange in cattle is similar to sheep scab. The intense irritation caused by the feeding mites means cattle rub against walls, trees and anything that offers relief. As a result, affected animals can have crusting scabs or bleeding along their back, shoulders and tail head. The pain and distress caused has implications for animal health, welfare and productivity.

Since 2007, when the first outbreak was recorded in Wales, a further 22 farms have been affected south of the border. The condition has not been diagnosed in Scottish herds in recent years, but the industry cannot be complacent.

Cattle may not show signs immediately after infection, allowing the silent spread of disease across the country when cattle are moved from affected farms, explains Alasdair Nisbet of MRI.

“At Moredun we are adapting the diagnostic blood test for sheep scab to detect mange cases in cattle. To determine the sensitivity and specificity of the test we need serum samples from confirmed cases of mange in cattle”.

Submission of skin samples from suspect cases, along with a serum blood sample from the same animal, should be sent to the nearest regional SAC Veterinary Services Centre. The serum samples will be forwarded to Moredun, says Helen Carty of SAC Veterinary Services.

“Treatment of ‘scab’ in cattle is problematic. Experience in Wales suggests the mites are resistant to commonly-used products and none are licensed for use in milking dairy cows. Farmers should report any suspect cases to their vet, who can take samples to see if the mites are present and check the efficacy of treatment. There is more information available from SAC Consulting Veterinary Services.”

While under the Sheep Scab (Scotland) Order 2010 farmers must notify the authorities if they suspect they have a case, psoroptic mange is not currently notifiable in cattle.

See more