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Redwater In Cattle


Redwater is a life-threatening disease of cattle caused by a parasite called Babesia divergens, which is spread by ticks. The results of the second ‘redwater parasite’ are debilitating and life threatening. Red blood cells in the stricken animal are quickly separated, causing extreme anaemia, diarrhoea and dullness. Early diagnosis is important for survival.


A relatively small number of cattle will have fatal clinical symptoms, a far greater proportion will show far more subtle subclinical signs, including moderate fever, anorexia and ‘generally unwellness.’ It’s vital that if your cattle graze tick-infested soil and you see any signs of poor health, Redwater should be in the back of your mind, even if you don’t really see the classic red urine!

More serious clinical signs include:

  • Anaemia
  • Acute fever 
  • Diarrhea
  • Severe dehydration 
  • Anorexia
  • Pale/jaundiced mucous membranes

Be conscious of the clinical signs to be detected as the prognosis is greatly affected by the pace of diagnosis and treatment. Cattle have little to no chance of recovery as soon as they display signs of toxaemic shock, are unable to rise, have a low temperature, and exhibit behavioural changes that suggest brain damage.


The general clinical image typically makes a diagnosis. The most striking sign is the traditional port-wine-colored urine, which foams freely when emptied or when agitated.

The occurrence of a typical liver infarction is appropriate for a presumptive diagnosis. The regular size and quality of the spleen is used to exclude anthrax and anaplasmosis. Bracken fern toxicity and leptospirosis should also be considered.

Diagnosis can be confirmed by isolating C haemolyticum from the infarct of the liver, but the body is difficult to develop. Rapid and precise diagnosis may be made by demonstrating the organism in the tissue of the liver with a fluorescent antibody or immunohistochemistry test or by demonstrating the toxin in the fluid in the peritoneal cavity or in a saline infarct extract.


If treated early, there is a small risk that the infected animal will recover. Treatment consists mainly of an anti-toxin injection and antibiotic therapy. Your veterinarian can also be given intravenous fluids and may be given sick animal blood transfusions.


Successful management of tick fever has been achieved by a variety of steps aimed at both the disease and the tick vector. Tick regulation by acaracide dip is commonly used in endemic regions.

Dipping can be performed as often as every 4-6 weeks in highly infested areas. The incidence of tick resistance, chemical contaminants in livestock and environmental issues about the continued use of insecticides have contributed to the use of integrated tick control strategies.

You can also ask your vet about Vetsan Flexa4 Rapid Test for the vector-borne diseases as that is also a comprehensive heartworm and tick panel that has been found effective.