General description
  • An inflammatory, degenerative disease of the kidney that is often referred to as ‘white spotted kidney’.
  • Nephritis is characterized by scattered, greyish‐white foci in cattle kidneys measuring between 1-5 mm.
  • Nephritis is predominately found in beef cattle under extensive management, i.e. on pasture.
  • Leptospirosis, a bacterial disease, is thought to be the most predominant cause of the nephritis in beef cattle.
  • Between 3–10% of processed cattle can be identified as affected with nephritis in problem herds.
  • Leptospirosis can be transmitted to humans via contact with contaminated cattle urine. Vaccinating against leptospirosis may be required on occupational health and safety grounds.
  • The causal bacteria can be spread through contaminated urine entering cuts, abrasions or mucus membranes of cattle from contaminated water, soil or mud.
  • Exposure to flood water can spread the bacteria quickly and over a vast area. Bacteria can enter through abrasions in the mouth when eating or drinking water contaminated with them.
  • Animals that recover can develop a carrier condition where the bacteria continue to develop in renal tubules for periods of days to years.
  • Ascending bladder infection and toxin exposure from poisonous plants (e.g., sorrel, soursob, buffel grass, lantana, acorns, etc.) or farm chemicals (e.g. some drenches, antibiotics, superphosphate etc.) may cause a proportion of nephritis
Clinical signs
  • No obvious signs on farm. However, it is likely to have an effect on cattle health.
  • Nephritis could potentially lead to production losses (ie, trouble passing urine, excessive urination, loss of appetite) leading to deterioration of weight.
  • The cause of the nephritis first needs to be determined; this will require testing by a veterinarian.
  • If an infectious cause is found, antibiotics may be prescribed.
  • Treatment involves the removal of infected cattle from the rest of the herd, often moving them to an area where bacteria do not thrive, including dry soils or increased soil acidity.
  • Protective clothing and gloves should be worn if leptospirosis is suspected as it is a zoonotic infection.
  • Provide clean water and feed sources to cattle.
  • Undertaking biosecurity measures such as changing clothing, cleaning shoes and not cross-contaminating equipment can prevent the spread of disease.
  • If leptospirosis is diagnosed, then introducing an effective vaccination program offers the best protection against it. Consult with your veterinarian before commencing a vaccination program.
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