SEPTIC ARTHRITIS

Septic arthritis, the primary cause of joint diseases in bovines1, is a painful and debilitating disease. It affects the well-being of the affected animals and causes muscle loss in them. This disease can have serious economic consequences for the breeder, in particular in terms of costs, time spent and loss of income.1,2 Once animals intended for meat are affected with arthritis, their affected joints are sometimes confiscated at the slaughterhouse, and sometimes the carcass as well. This leads to a loss of income for the breeder.


WHY ?

Septic arthritis results from bacterial colonisation of the joints. The bacteria destroy the cartilage and trigger an inflammatory response. Most often, septic arthritis results from a primary infection, in particular of the navel (omphalitis), lungs (pneumonia) or digestive tract (enteritis). It may also develop because of a skin sore located close to a joint.


WHAT ARE THE SOLUTIONS?

Prevention of septic arthritis revolves around a number of concepts, including strengthening the cow’s immunity and restricting the risks of infection by means of proper hygiene of the farm buildings and of newborn calves.

Prevention is crucial, in particular for young animals, in order to realise their potential in the best way possible. It consists of avoiding the emergence of primary infectious foci or at least avoiding the spread of germs, in particular by early prevention or treatment of omphalitis.

If septic arthritis appears, it is important to begin the treatment as early as possible in order to avoid complications.

When septic arthritis is present, appropriate antibiotic treatment will eliminate the bacteria that caused the infection. To maintain the everyday comfort of the affected animal, anti-inflammatory treatment compatible with the antibiotic is most commonly offered. Joint lavages can be an addition to the treatment, making it easier to eliminate the bacteria from the joint.


WHAT ANIMALS ARE AFFECTED?

Septic arthritis mainly affects calves under 8 months old2,3, since they are predominantly affected by omphalitis, pneumopathy and bacterial enteritis.

All animals, including those who are very old, are also susceptible to sores located close to joints, which may progress to septic arthritis.

TALK TO YOUR VETERINARIAN


WHY ?

Septic arthritis results from bacterial colonisation of the joints. The bacteria destroy the cartilage and trigger an inflammatory response. Most often, septic arthritis results from a primary infection, in particular of the navel (omphalitis), lungs (pneumonia) or digestive tract (enteritis). It may also develop because of a skin sore located close to a joint.


WHAT ARE THE SOLUTIONS?

Prevention of septic arthritis revolves around a number of concepts, including strengthening the cow’s immunity and restricting the risks of infection by means of proper hygiene of the farm buildings and of newborn calves.

Prevention is crucial, in particular for young animals, in order to realise their potential in the best way possible. It consists of avoiding the emergence of primary infectious foci or at least avoiding the spread of germs, in particular by early prevention or treatment of omphalitis.

If septic arthritis appears, it is important to begin the treatment as early as possible in order to avoid complications.

When septic arthritis is present, appropriate antibiotic treatment will eliminate the bacteria that caused the infection. To maintain the everyday comfort of the affected animal, anti-inflammatory treatment compatible with the antibiotic is most commonly offered. Joint lavages can be an addition to the treatment, making it easier to eliminate the bacteria from the joint.


WHAT ANIMALS ARE AFFECTED?

Septic arthritis mainly affects calves under 8 months old2,3, since they are predominantly affected by omphalitis, pneumopathy and bacterial enteritis.

All animals, including those who are very old, are also susceptible to sores located close to joints, which may progress to septic arthritis.

TALK TO YOUR VETERINARIAN

MANIFESTATIONS OF THE DISEASE

Most often, the affected animals have high fever (over 40°C), which causes fatigue and loss of appetite.3 If the amount of water is reduced, it intensifies the toxicity of some medications, in particular non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The affected joints are very painful, the movements are restricted, and sometimes the animal no longer puts the affected limb on the floor.

If the treatment is not early or effective enough, septic arthritis can become chronic. Thus, the fever is not always present, but the joint pain persists, as do the consequences (reduced movements, decreased weight gain, muscle loss).

HOW IT COMES ABOUT

When the animal suffers from a sore located close to a joint, the bacteria (which are present in the surroundings, for example in the litter box) can colonise the sore and affect the nearby joint. These bacteria can be found in the blood and so circulate in the entire body of the affected animal (septicemia).

Infections of the navel (omphalitis), lungs (pneumonia) and intestines (enteritis) are caused by numerous bacteria, among other factors. These bacteria can be found in the blood and so circulate in the entire body of the affected animal. Then they can settle in the organs favourable to their multiplication. Among them are joints, in particular those of limbs (carpal, tarsal and stifle joints).

Once the bacteria have settled in a joint (or joints), they destroy the cartilage and trigger an inflammatory response, which may be very strong and more severe than the actual infection.2,4 After several months, fibrin (a whitish substance originating from coagulation) is formed and settles in the joint. It fuels inflammation and inhibits the body’s immune response to these bacteria 2,5.

PREVENTION

In the first 8 weeks of its life, the immunity of a calf is based solely on the quality and quantity of colostrum ingested after birth. Therefore, providing colostrum that is rich in antibodies early and in sufficient amounts, is an essential step in the prevention of septic arthritis.

On the other hand, hygienic measures and flock management are essential as well: taking care of and monitoring the umbilical cord in the days after birth, keeping the litter box clean with the layer thick enough, quarantining any animals affected with pneumopathy or enteritis, separating the young from the more senior ones.

Dietary supplements with oligoelements and vitamins may also be added to the diet to compensate for too weak an immune response.

TREATMENTS

In terms of reducing the use of antibiotics in animal production, the preventive measures mentioned above are all the more justified. In fact, treatment of septic arthritis includes targeted antibiotic therapy, which must be tailored to the bacteria present3,5. To ensure a better efficacy and avoid the resistance to antibiotics, the chosen agent, the method of administration and the duration of treatment must be adapted to the germ that caused arthritis. Thus, intravenously administered antibiotics are prioritised for a more rapid action. Note that administering an antibiotic requires that the waiting times for the sale of milk and meat of the treated animals be observed.

 

Often, the inflammation in septic arthritis is more harmful to the joint and the animal itself than the actual infection. Therefore, using anti-inflammatory agents is completely justified to counter fever and pain. Many non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be used for this indication4,5. Nevertheless, most of them lead to side effects in the digestive tract (abomasal ulcers) and kidneys not to be dismissed, in particular in growing, anorexic and/or dehydrated animals. Moreover, some anti-inflammatory agents increase the risk of renal toxicity of certain antibiotics4. As with antibiotics, it is recommended to prioritise the method of administration with a rapid action.

Finally, assisting the joint to get rid of the elements that are destroying it (bacteria, fibrin, etc.) can help the animal recover. This is the aim of joint lavage, which consists of injecting sterile liquid into the affected joint and then draining it out several times in a row. Although this mechanical action yields worthwhile results, it also has its limitations, requiring the equipment, frequent manipulations on the animal and the time to be spent by either the veterinarian or breeder. When performed excessively, it may even cause inflammation 2,6,7.