Liver fluke can pose a serious threat to cattle producers in Australia, especially in areas of high rainfall, where it is the most prevalent. This parasitic flatworm infects the liver of cattle, which can lead to lasting damage to both the health and productivity of your animals, and could potentially provoke a number of other consequences for producers.
Fortunately, though, there are a number of effective treatments and control methods that can be used to manage and prevent liver fluke in cattle. In this blog, we’ll discuss the different options available to cattle producers and provide our expert tips for stopping this nasty parasite from causing detriment to your livestock and property.
What is liver fluke, and how does it infect cattle?
Known also by its scientific name fasciola hepatica, liver fluke is a parasite from the flatworm family that can infect the liver and bile ducts of various animals, including cattle, sheep, and goats.
Liver fluke infection in cattle poses a serious concern due to the potential harm that the parasites can cause to an animal’s liver. The liver is an important organ that plays a critical role in many bodily functions, including metabolism, digestion, and detoxification, which is why it’s crucial for cattle producers to understand the infection process and how to effectively curb damage.
Infection starts through the release of liver fluke eggs in the faeces of an infected animal. These eggs then hatch larvae, which infect a specific type of freshwater snail that serves as an intermediate host. The larvae develop within the snail, eventually emerging as infective cysts that are shed into the surrounding pastures and environment. Grazing animals like cattle then ingest the cysts, which releases the juvenile flukes that migrate to the liver and bile ducts. They then mature into adult flukes, completing the infection cycle.
What are the most common symptoms of liver fluke?
Liver fluke infections can cause a variety of symptoms in infected animals. The symptoms that present may be dependent on whether the disease is acute (short-term following a significant infestation of fluke cysts) or chronic (long-term and recurring). Acute liver fluke infections often cause symptoms such as weight loss due to reduced appetite, diarrhoea, and anaemia. Anaemia can be visually detected in some scenarios, through pale or yellow gums and membranes around the cattle’s eyes.
Chronic liver fluke infections also display these symptoms, as well as swelling underneath the jaw, known as bottle jaw. In severe cases, whether acute or chronic, liver damage and even death can occur. Liver fluke infections can also impact production outcomes like milk yield and fertility – this is a particular problem in dairy cows.
Why is liver fluke a problem for cattle producers?
Both acute and chronic liver fluke infections can foster an array of negative consequences for the welfare of your cattle, and the economic health of your production as a result. These include weight loss, reduced milk production, and impaired fertility, all of which can lead to a downturn in farm productivity and profitability. Liver fluke can also have an impact on an entire herd, and while symptoms may not show immediately in each animal, can spread quickly.
Where in Australia is liver fluke a problem?
Liver fluke is present in various areas of the country but is most commonly found in regions with high rainfall that offer a suitable snail habitat, as snails are a crucial element of the liver fluke life cycle. These areas include parts of eastern Australia, such as coastal regions in New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania, as well as parts of South Australia and Western Australia.
In some areas like Gippsland in Victoria, liver fluke is a significant and ongoing problem that rarely relents. However, the distribution and prevalence of liver fluke in most areas of Australia tends to vary from year to year, depending on weather conditions and other environmental factors. Farmers in at-risk areas should be vigilant and take appropriate measures to prevent and control liver fluke in their herds to avoid lasting damage.
How to treat liver fluke in cattle
Liver fluke infection in cattle is a serious concern due to the potential impacts on animal health, welfare, and farm profitability. However, effective prevention and control measures, including regular monitoring and appropriate treatment, can help to mitigate these risks.
Preventing and controlling liver fluke in cattle involves a range of measures, including management of grazing areas, strategic use of anthelmintic treatments, and regular faecal testing to monitor the health of the herd. Working with your veterinarian to develop an effective liver fluke strategy is recommended, particularly if outbreaks continue to occur.
There are a number of steps involved in the liver fluke management process, starting at diagnosis. This can be done by monitoring for clinical symptoms of liver fluke, as well as conducting laboratory tests such as faecal egg counts and blood tests.
After liver fluke has been correctly identified, anthelmintic treatments must be administered. Available in a number of formats, including oral, pour-on, and injectable treatments, appropriate anthelmintics should include active ingredients shown to be effective at controlling liver fluke, such as triclabendazole, albendazole, clorsulon, oxyclozanide, and nitroxynil. When using anthelmintics, it is crucial to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and administer the correct dosage so that the treatment is effective and the risk of resistance is minimised.
Along with anthelmintic treatment, proper management practices can also help to reduce the risk of liver fluke infection in cattle. These tactics include proper grazing management, avoiding overstocking, and adhering to good hygiene practices.
Once management techniques have been implemented, and anthelmintics used to treat active infections, it is imperative that producers follow up by monitoring their herd to identify further infection. This can be done by conducting regular testing on your herd.
The best treatments recommended for liver fluke
There are a number of high-quality and effective anthelmintic products on the market to treat liver fluke in cattle. As a producer, it’s important to understand which active ingredients have been found to effectively address liver fluke so that you can purchase the right products for your herd. Here are a few of the active ingredients and products we recommend.
Triclabendazole is the most common active ingredient for liver fluke infestations and can be used either on its own or with a combination of other ingredients like ivermectin or clorsulan. Triclabendazole is highly effective against immature eggs and mature liver fluke. It generally comes in an oral drench form or as an injectable, and some of the most popular products include the Fasinex 240 Oral Flukicide for Cattle, the Exifluke 240 Oral Flukicide for Cattle, or the Tremacide 120 Flukicide for Cattle and Sheep. These are all well documented at treating all stages of liver fluke. Other combination products that contain triclabendazole include the Avomec Plus Cattle Pour-On and Fasimec Cattle Oral Flukicide and Drench.
Clorsulon is effective at treating both liver fluke and gastrointestinal nematodes. Like triclabendazole, it’s available in either an oral or injectable form. Injectable products like the Bomectin F Injection for Cattle and the Ivomec Plus Injection for Cattle include a combination of clorsulon and ivermectin to treat liver fluke along with other internal parasites.
Although less commonly used than some other actives, albendazole still presents a good option for treating liver fluke. It is a broad-spectrum anthelmintic oral white drench for cattle, and controls a number of internal parasites such as adult liver fluke, as well as tapeworm and lungworm in cattle.
Used mainly to treat mature liver fluke, nitroxynil is available as an injectable but becomes increasingly effective if used in a combination drench. The Nitrofluke Injection Flukicide for Cattle combines nitroxynil and clorsulon, whereas the Nitromec Injection Endectocide and Flukicide for Cattle combines nitroxynil, clorsulon, and ivermectin. Both are very effective at treating resistance strains of both immature and mature liver fluke.
When selecting a treatment for liver fluke in your herd, it is important to note that different regions may have varied recommendations for the use of anthelmintics and the selection of the appropriate drugs and dosage. Be sure to review these prior to treating your livestock. It’s also important to use anthelmintic treatments as described, following the proper dosage and withdrawal periods to avoid the development of anthelmintic resistance.
Liver fluke can create a serious problem for cattle producers, and if left untreated, may lead to poor health and even death. However, with the right treatment plan composed of anthelmintic treatments, good management practices, and follow-up monitoring, liver fluke can be kept under control and detriment to your business mitigated.
As the experts in animal health management, the team at Specialist Sales have been helping producers with treating liver fluke for many years. If you’d like help devising your own treatment plan or selecting the right product, get in touch with one of our friendly team members.