Blindness in a sick?? heifer

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Well-known member
Mar 31, 2006
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the 38th State
I am wondering if anyone has seen an instance of this. I am perplexed as is the veterinarian. The neighbor has an angus heifer approx. 9 months old with all calfhood shots, pre-wean and post wean and absolutely no sickness at all. Weaned early October and on alfalfa/grass meadows since then with free choice mineral and salt and approx. five pounds per head per day of a ground corn and wheat mid mix. This morning she was acting like she did not feel well. We have had cold nights and abnormally warm days for the last week, but her temp was only slightly elevated (102.2). The perplexing thing is she appeared blind. Nothing abnormal about the eyes other than she doesn't act like she sees anything. You can walk right up to her (unapproachable before, not wild just not scratchable), wave a hand or finger in front of her eyes and no response whatsoever. Any ideas from anyone would be helpful. Again all of us here are completely at a loss to explain this.

capt":2i7o4mkg said:
five pounds per head per day of a ground corn and wheat mid mix.

Check your wheat mid mix. I have seen some wheat mid products that cause health problems and even death. Wheat mid can be a good thing -- or not.
Thiamine deficiency? She's in the age group for it.

IME they stop eating. Blindness, siezures are common signs. Treatment is Vit B1 - but your vet should be able to diagnose this?
Toxicity issues, may cause similar symptoms.

I had a heifer destroyed recently with malignant catarrhal fever, blind in both eyes, but this doesn't sound like it. I think the eyes should look cloudy, as in pink-eye (I didn't see her as she's grazing away).
Thanks for the responses and ideas. She is back eating, but blind as a bat so to speak. She has figured out how to navigate around pretty well and nothing for her to get into trouble with. She is one of about 45 head getting the same ration and no other problems yet so I would guess it is not a wheat mid issue. She has been on a regular vitamin/mineral package with recommended levels so the thiamine if it was an issue I would think it would show in some of the others as well. Her eyes are completely clear and normal looking. I will look into the lead issue, but I don't have the foggiest idea where or how she would have found a source that any of the others did not find.

Again thanks, anyone with other ideas???
Quick quick, give her thiamine shots..seen it in goats/sheep. It can affect one or a few only. She could go downhill rapidly and the thiamine is cheap and could save your heifer and in any case would not do her any harm. Delay and the damage may be
Vision coming back slowly but surely. will give a thiamine shot tomorrow hopefully if the bottle arrives from the shipping company. Thanks for the suggestions.
capt":n0teak24 said:
Vision coming back slowly but surely. will give a thiamine shot tomorrow hopefully if the bottle arrives from the shipping company. Thanks for the suggestions.

Well so did the thiamine shot help? Back when I was younger we had a horse have a blind colt. Turned out to be Lepto.
I am still at a loss to explain this. Good news is that the heifer can see just fine now and is back to her old ways of wanting to play and butt heads with the others. She was seeing just fine before the thiamine arrived. Don't know if it would have made a difference or not. I am just glad she can see and is a marketable commodity again. She will not be sold as a potential breeder though, too many questions in my mind on what caused her temporary blindness and whether it could happen again. she will be spayed and sold as a feeder. I am still interested in hearing from anyone who has seen this.

Just keep an eye on the others. Use the thiamine first if others show similar signs - it's cheap, it can be a life-saver if that's what's needed.

We had it in a line of 2 yr old heifers a few years back, one seen by vet, treated with general antibiotics, came right (just stopped eating as far as I can tell). Few weeks later, one blind, one staggering around and fitting. The blind one was grazed on her own and started recovering well, the other was cut open by the vets at the petfood factory and diagnosed that way - it's called polioencephalomalacia (polio) in NZ, CCN (cerebrocortical necrosis) in the UK. No idea what it's called in the US.
There were several more after that - gave them thiamine, appetite stimulant to kick-start grazing again, they all came right. The blind one was trucked out, I think she could see by then though. Eventually injected every heifer with thiamine and that stopped them succumbing - it was much later that I decided the first one was also polio.
At the time, vets didn't seem to much know why thiamine worked as a preventative or what triggered polio. We spent a lot of time discussing possible plant toxins - first as the cause of the symptoms then, after the diagnoses, as the possible trigger.
I wouldn't be able to tell CCN apart from lead poisoning in calves. I've seen both, I'm still not that clever. The symptoms are of generalised toxicity - nervous system, digestive system.

In theory any interruption to rumination could trigger thiamine deficiency, but in practise it doesn't seem to.
Very interesting. Thanks. Have kept a close eye on the entire bunch with none of them shoing anything at all. Eating just fine right up until blindness started and then off feed for about 24 hours until she learned to trust me to get them to the bunk and then appetite returned. A few days later so did her vision. To watch her now, you would never know anything was wrong. I will visit with the vet at length about polio and do some further research. Thanks again. On another note, would like to see New Zealand someday.