How to Prevent and Manage Clostridium with Vaccines

Dr. Erika Nagorske

Apr 29, 2022

As cattle start to be turned out to pasture, it’s a good time to think about how to deal with clostridium and the problems it can bring to your operation. Having a sound clostridial vaccine strategy will help you manage and prevent issues for your herd. 

Watch Dr. Erika Nagorske, a practicing veterinarian with Southwest Veterinary Services, FBN®’s official veterinary partner, in the video below as she discusses the different types of clostridium, treatment strategies and prevention methods. 

Watch Now: Developing a Clostridial Vaccine Strategy

Clostridium Types

Clostridium is a large spore forming gram positive bacteria. It can produce endotoxin which will cause severe tissue damage. Both black leg and tetanus are the result of endotoxins that are produced from bacteria.

The main types of clostridium to look for in cattle include:

  • Type C (Clostridium perfringens type C)

  • Type D (Clostridium perfringens type D)

  • Type A (Clostridium perfringens type A)

  • Tetanus (Clostridium tetani)

  • Redwater (Clostridium haemolyticum)

  • Blackleg (Clostridium chauvoei)

  • Malignant edema (Clostridium septicum)

It’s important to note the scientific name of each type because sometimes this is listed on the label of the vaccine and will help you identify what the vaccine is treating. 

Type C

Type C causes bloody intestines (hemorrhagic enteritis). The symptoms of this type of clostridium include lethargy, bloody diarrhea, and cattle being off milk or feed. This usually affects younger animals on milk.

Type D

This is sometimes referred to as “overeating disease.” The common predisposing factor that leads to this is excessive ingestion of feed or milk. Symptoms include sudden death in animals who are suspected of over eating. Severe bloat pushes the abdominal cavity on the lungs of the cattle and causes them to suffocate. Sometimes animals will appear neurologic before death and may stumble around as toxins are causing damage.

Type A

Younger calves who are fed milk can develop “garbage gut.” Symptoms in this scenario include lethargy, bloat, and being off milk/feed. In severe cases, the calf can die from toxemia. Type A causes lesions also known as severe ulcerative abomasitis.

There is no commercial vaccine for Type A clostridium. There is hope that other clostridial vaccines may provide some cross protection against Type A. Autogenous vaccines are very effective for this type of clostridium and working with a veterinarian can help you see if this strategy would be a good fit for your operation. 


This clostridium is ingested through pasture or recent dirt work and migrates to the muscles. It typically remains dormant in the animal until injury or changes in the muscle occur from injury such as the animal’s chest hitting the front of the chute or riding other animals. This then allows spores to multiply. Symptoms include cattle becoming severely lethargic, sudden death, edema or swelling of the hip, shoulder or neck muscles. 


Tetanus is known as “lockjaw” or muscle stiffness. Tissue has to be favorable for this infection to occur and likelihood of infection can be increased by castration, tagging, or any events that can cause tissue injury. Tetanus is very difficult to treat once symptoms are severe such as locked legs or locked jaw. Because tetanus is so difficult to treat, it’s recommended to implement a vaccine strategy.

Red Water

This is a unique type of clostridium that is initiated by liver damage (typically by liver flukes). Once this occurs, clostridial spores multiply within the animal. The location of your herd can greatly increase the chance for red water. In an area that is very marshy (ex. Northern Minnesota), you may see more problems caused by liver flukes. Symptoms include lethargy, port-wine colored urine, and in severe cases sudden death. This is not typically found in most “7 way” vaccines so you’ll want to work with a veterinarian to find an “8 way” or “9 way” vaccine to mitigate risk associated with Red Water disease. 

Treatment of Clostridiales

Some of the different methods of treating clostridiales include:

  • Antitoxin products 

  • Antibiotics

  • Anti-inflammatories (for endotoxins)

Keep in mind that treatment is difficult when the disease process has advanced because toxins have created too much damage and drugs simply won’t be effective. 

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Vaccines for clostridium are extremely effective in the prevention of both disease and death. There are multiple vaccines available. Some of the more common vaccines are:

CD + T
7 Way
  • Clostridium chauvoei

  • Clostridium septicum

  • Clostridium novae

  • Clostridium sordelli

  • iClostridium types C/D

  • Example: Vision® 7 by Merck Animal Health or Alpha-7®, 50 Dose by Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA, Inc. 

8 Way
  • 7 Way + Red Water strain

  • Example: Bar-Vac® 8, 50 Dose by Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA, Inc. 

9 Way

It’s important to always read the labels of your vaccines and to consult with a veterinarian to help manage your prevention strategy. 


Vaccinating your cattle in a timely manner before pasture turn out and before heavy feeding periods is a smart management strategy. Knowing if you’ve had a problem in the past will also help your operation.

Be conscious of dirt movement and construction in your yard. If cattle ingest excessive amounts of dirt, it may change your clostridium risk. Keep in mind that feed piles stored on dirt versus cement can also increase clostridium exposure. 

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Dr. Erika Nagorske

Apr 29, 2022

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