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Clostridial diseases

Clostridial diseases are caused by anaerobic bacteria that are widespread in the environment, particularly in soil, and are often fatal.

The bacteria produce spores that can survive in the environment for a very long time.

Clostridial diseases include:

  • tetanus
  • blackleg
  • black disease
  • malignant oedema
  • pulpy kidney
  • botulism

Conditions when clostridial diseases are likely to occur

  • in non-vaccinated animals
  • tetanus –penetrating wounds (including marking wounds), foot trimming wounds, dog bites, grass seed punctures and dehorning
  • blackleg –muscle bruising, especially in growing animals
  • black disease –liver fluke infection
  • malignant oedema –wounds, especially in females associated with recent birthing
  • pulpy kidney –lush pastures, heavy grain feeding and a sudden change in feeding
  • botulism –cattle grazing land deficient in protein and phosphorous without adequate supplementation. Phosphorus deficiency leads to bone chewing, which is commonly associated with botulism in unvaccinated cattle.

Identification and diagnosis

With all clostridial diseases, diagnosis will require assistance from a veterinarian.

Clinical signs that would lead you to suspect a clostridial disease include the following:

  • tetanus -stiff-legged gait followed by convulsions that are initially stimulated by sound or touch and that gradually increase in severity
  • blackleg -severe lameness and swelling on the affected leg. Animals with blackleg are very depressed, with a fever and dry cracked skin. Sudden death is common
  • black disease -animals with black disease are profoundly depressed and can have abdominal pain. Sudden death is common
  • malignant oedema -a contaminated wound, often in females that have recently given birth, with local swelling. Animals with malignant oedema are depressed with a fever. Death is common
  • pulpy kidney -animals with pulpy kidney have convulsions and sudden death
  • botulism -animals with botulism have paralysed tongues leading to refusal to eat and drink and drooling of saliva. They are dehydrated and weak. Flaccid paralysis may be present (back then front legs) or aggression.


An integrated approach to prevent clostridial diseases should consider the following:

  • Prevention of clostridial diseases relies largely on vaccination. The whole flock or herd should be vaccinated following the directions on the vaccine label.
  • To help prevent botulism, cattle in northern Australia should receive supplementary protein and phosphorus.