News & Advice

Water intoxication in calves

Oct 20, 2023 | Calf rearing, Dairy, Young Stock

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? In this case, yes!

We recently had a couple cases of young calves drinking too much water. This most commonly occurs after calves have had a period with no access to water, then unrestricted access to water. Calves aged 2-10 months are most at risk.


What does drinking too much water do?

When too much water is consumed, this causes the blood to become too ‘watery’ and lose its ‘saltiness’. This causes the red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen to burst. The brain also starts to absorb too much water from the blood and can swell.


What are the symptoms of water toxicity?

  • red urine
  • sudden death
  • lethargy
  • muscle tremors
  • seizures, coma

Symptoms are normally seen within 30 minutes to a few hours after excessive intakes.

Red urine samples

How to prevent water intoxication

• do not feed water through a cafeteria.
• allow calves access to water when they are yarded.
• provide calves paddocks with shade on hot days

If you see calves urinating red urine, call your vet ASAP. If caught early, we can put steps in place to help minimize deaths.

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