Veterinary advice should be sought before applying any treatment or vaccine.


Botulism is a neuromuscular disease of great importance to cattle worldwide. It is caused by neurotoxins produced by seven different strains of a spore-producing anaerobic bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. The two strains that affect cattle are types C and D. Botulinum toxin is a protein that C. botulinum secretes, which causes muscle paralysis by blocking the presynaptic release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

C. botulinum is of the Clostridium genus, which are the same organisms responsible for tetanus, enterotoxaemia (pulpy kidney), black leg, black disease, and malignant odema (gas gangrene). It is a spore forming bacterium that thrives in decaying animal or plant material, able to rapidly produce its highly lethal toxin into the surrounding environment.

Cattle are one of the most susceptible animals to the toxic compounds produced by C. botulinum. The botulinum toxin can be absorbed through wounds infected with the bacteria or from the gastrointestinal tract after ingestion of feed contaminated with the bacteria or preformed toxin. Ingestion of spores that develop into bacteria and colonize the gut can also cause the production and absorption of the toxin. Hay can also be contaminated with the bacteria during the raking and baling process.

The botulism bacteria grows on food sources which are above a pH of 4.5 and that are in an anaerobic (non-oxygen) environment. Cattle are one of the most susceptible species.

Incubation period
Clinical signs of infection usually occur between 3 to seven days following ingestion of the toxin.


Refusal to drink
Lack of appetite
Drooling saliva
Altered behavior
Muscular weakness
Frequently Lying down
Decreased tail, anal, eyelid, and tongue tone
Difficulty swallowing
Standing with all four legs close together


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Fecal culture test
  • Mouse Protection test
  • Bacterial culture


Treatment TypeDetailsReference
Botulism antitoxin
Intravenous penicillin


  • Vaccination
  • Biosecurity
  • Provide cattle with supplemental phosphorus and protein
  • Promptly remove any carcasses or bones from cattle pastures
  • Regularly check water sources for carcases of dead wild animals


Most cases are fatal.

Article Reference

Risk Factors

  • Cattle with a protein and/or phosphorous deficiency
  • Exposure to bones and carrion of decaying cattle
  • Exposure to fly maggots
  • Dead animal carcasses in water source
  • Exposure to rotting or moldy hay or silage
  • Young growing calves
  • Lactating cows
  • Unvaccinated or improperly vaccinated cattle


  • Clostridium botulinum

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