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Diseases - Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy - Clinical Signs

Clinical Signs

The clinical symptoms of BSE are varied. Most cattle with BSE show a gradual development of symptoms over a period of several weeks or even months, although some can deteriorate very rapidly. Only a small proportion of affected cattle show what would be considered typical "mad cow" signs. Most suspects show several (but not all) of the following symptoms, if they are observed closely enough:

  • apprehensiveness
  • nervousness
  • reluctance to cross concrete, turn corners, enter yards, go through doorways or permit milking
  • occasional aggression directed at other cattle or humans
  • manic kicking when milked
  • head shyness, with head held low
  • high stepping gait, particularly hind legs
  • difficulties in rising
  • skin tremors
  • loss of condition, weight or milk yield

Stress appears to cause the more rapid development of clinical signs in some animals, particularly when brought in before calving or if transported. Some symptoms may be subtle in the early stage but can usually be recognised by experienced stockmen and veterinarians.