tick-borne diseases

Livestock production: Watch for tick-borne diseases

Ticks and tick-borne diseases are a problem year-round in the tropics and sub tropics, and seasonally in regions with cold winters. After good rains, when temperatures are still high, ticks are rampant. Dipping is the key to prevention of tick borne diseases.


Redwater is carried and transmitted by blue ticks and there is a peak in blue tick numbers and redwater outbreaks in the autumn.

The disease organism transmitted by the blue ticks affects the red blood cells of cattle, causing them to burst. Finally, there is too little blood to carry oxygen to the different parts of the body and the animal dies shortly after it shows signs of weakness.

tick-borne diseases
Redwater under the microscope – the vet can confirm a diagnosis by taking a blood smear on site and looking at it under the microscope.


tick-borne diseases
The blue tick is the vector for redwater.


tick-borne diseases
Ticks migrate from tall grass onto the animals to complete their life cycles. Youngsters safely have about six months of immunity to tick borne diseases.


Cattle contract gall sickness from infected ticks, but biting insects and needle to needle transmission (blood borne) can also spread the disease.

Gall sickness shows up as appetite loss, high temperature, pale eye membranes and constipation (hard, small dung).
The stockman has a bit more of a window with gall sickness than he (or she) does with redwater. Really, if you are checking your herd, there is no excuse for losing an animal to gall sickness.


The challenge is to identify the disease early, before it destroys too many of the red blood cells. The only way to check is to take the animal’s temperature as soon as you notice any change in behaviour (weakness). If there is redwater, the temperature will be more than 40.5°C.

To check the diagnosis, look at the inner lining of the eyelid. The colour of this lining is a good indicator of the level of blood loss. When there is redwater, the lining will be white. There is also lack of appetite and red urine. Redwater can kill a lot of cattle in one or two days.

tick-borne diseases
Regular dipping, once a week in the hotter, wetter regions, is the key to controlling ticks and the disease organisms they transmit.


There’s a specific technique for checking the eyelid. Place one hand on top of the animal’s head and push the top eyelid closed, with the thumb of this hand.

Then pull the lower eyelid open, using the thumb of the other hand – this is done by pulling the skin of the cheek down to just below the lower eyelid. In this way you can see the inner lining of the lower eyelid.

If the temperature is above 40.5°C and the inner lining of the eyelid is white, the animal is affected by either redwater or anaplasmosis (tick-borne gall sickness).


Keep the animal calm and don’t walk it over any kind of distance. Call the vet – or get the right medicine from a vet –to treat redwater and gall sickness.


Imizol, Forray 65, Babazene, Berenil and Veriben are standard treatments for redwater. These drugs are generally administered by deep intramuscular injection.

Berenil® R.T.U. (an Intervet product) cures and prevents redwater in cattle. It protects against Asiatic redwater for 2 weeks and against African redwater for 1 month. So if there is an outbreak, you can block your animals with Berenil.

Berenil® R.T.U is also effective against infections caused by Trypanosomas, a protozoal disease transmitted by the Tse-Tse fly.

The dose for Berenil is 5ml of made-up solution (1 packet mixed with 12.5 ml of sterile water) for each 100 kg (eg. 20 ml for a 400 kg animal, 25 ml for a 500 kg animal.) To revise: 5 ml per 100 kg.

Imizol is administered at 2.5 ml per 100 kg (eg. 10 ml for a 400 kg animal).

The Beyer product Hi-Tet 200 Gold LA, a long-acting oxytetracycline, is effective against gall sickness. Inject it intramuscularly at 1 ml per 10 kg live body mass (40 ml per 400 kg) for sustained blood levels for 3 to 5 days. At high doses it’s worth your while to divide the dose and inject at 2 different injection sites.

If the infection lingers, repeat the treatment after 72 hours.

Don’t make a mistake with the dose. Read the package inserts. Talk to your vet.

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