Infection is a possible complication with any dehorning method, but is most often associated with invasive procedures that expose the sinus cavity and/or cause blood loss. The use of knives, tubes, Barnes (gouge) dehorners, keystone (guillotine) dehorners, obstetrical wire and saws all increase the risk of infection during dehorning.
Exposed sinuses attract disease-carrying flies, and numerous bacteria can be involved.1 The presence of flies or maggots in sinus cavities will be obvious, but other, more subtle signs of sinusitis can include lack of appetite, fever, nasal discharge and abnormal head carriage.1 Such infections can show up immediately after dehorning or even months later, after the wounds have healed.
Several diseases can be spread by dehorning instruments contaminated with blood from infected animals. Researchers at the University of California found that gouge dehorning significantly increased the risk of bovine leukemia virus (BLV) infection in dairy heifers.2 Conversely, not dehorning with a gouge dehorner reduced the risk of BLV transmission by up to 80 percent.2 Other diseases associated with contaminated dehorning equipment include anaplasmosis, bovine cutaneous papillomas3 and tetanus.3
If invasive dehorning methods are used, there are several management steps you should take to reduce the risk of infection in your operation:
Clean dehorning instruments with disinfectant between use on animals.
Make sure dehorning instruments are kept sharp. Try to cleanly cut bone tissue rather than crushing it, as crushed tissue may be more vulnerable to infection.
Dehorn outside of fly season or use fly deterrent.
Treat wounds with blood coagulant powder.
Monitor mechanically dehorned animals for signs of infection, such as lack of appetite, fever, abnormal head carriage and foul breath. If you see these signs, contact your veterinarian for a definitive diagnosis and treatment.
How do you control dehorning-associated infection in your operation?
- The Merck Veterinary Manual, 9th Edition, 2011.
- Marei-Liesse G. Lassauzet, et al. Effect of Brucellosis Vaccination and Dehorning on Transmission of Bovine Leukemia Virus in Heifers in a California Dairy. Can J Vet Res 1990; 54: 184-189.
- Welfare Implications of the Dehorning and Disbudding of Cattle. American Veterinary Medical Association’s Animal Welfare Division. January 28, 2010.