By Andre Teixeira, DVM, PhD, Veterinary Affairs Director, Jaguar Health

Despite ongoing efforts to control neonatal diarrhea, it remains a major concern in the U.S. beef and dairy industries, with a high impact on animal welfare and profitability. Fluid therapy is still the hallmark treatment for neonatal calf diarrhea.

A study conducted in the early 1970s comparing non-diarrheic calves with calves affected with spontaneous diarrhea reported that 71.4% of the weight lost in a diarrheic calf is due to fecal water loss. Therefore, assessing dehydration and accurately identifying a calf that requires fluid therapy is very important. Diarrheic calves can lose significant amounts of body fluids and, consequently, blood electrolytes.

In field conditions, dehydration in neonatal calves can be measured by the degree of enophthalmos (eye recession into the orbit of the eye) and neck skin-tent duration.

Figure 1. A) Calf has a normal hydration status. There is no space between the eyelid and the eyeball. B) Calf is severely dehydrated. The eye is sunken at least 7 to 8 mm into the orbit.1

Finally, it is extremely important to follow electrolyte preparation instructions, because incorrectly prepared electrolytes can be harmful to the calf. Oral solutions with high osmolarity should receive special attention if mixed with milk. Additionally, milk should be offered even if a calf is under fluid therapy. Calves suffering from diarrhea would benefit from the energy provided by the milk offered during feeding.

Dehydration can be successfully treated, and providing a dehydrated calf with the necessary electrolytes and nutrients is key to restoring its hydration status.


  1. Constable, P. D., Walker, P. G., Morin, D. E. & Foreman, J. H. Clinical and laboratory assessment of hydration status of neonatal calves with diarrhea. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 212, 991–6 (1998).
  2. Fisher, E. W. & De la Fuente, G. H. Water and electrolyte studies in newborn calves with particular reference to the effects of diarrhoea. Res. Vet. Sci. 13, 315–22 (1972).
  3. Heath, S. E. et al. The effects of feeding milk to diarrheic calves supplemented with oral electrolytes. Can. J. Vet. Res. 53, 477–85 (1989).
  4. Phillips, R. W., Lewis, L. D. & Knox, K. L. Alterations in body water turnover and distribution in neonatal calves with acute diarrhea. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 176, 231–243 (1971).
  5. Smith, G. W. Treatment of calf diarrhea: oral fluid therapy. Vet. Clin. North Am. Food Anim. Pract. 25, 55–72, vi (2009).