Oral electrolytes to treat diarrhea can lead to hypernatremia in water-restricted calves

Alvaro Garcia

Diarrhea is the first leading cause of calf losses in dairy production systems. Affected calves soon become dehydrated and lose weight, and if not treated accordingly may soon die. A specific drug therapy to treat the causative agent should thus be accompanied by fluid therapy to reestablish the losses of water and minerals.

As a result, oral electrolyte solutions are very important when dealing with severe diarrhea in baby calves, with several types available in the market. These solutions may differ depending on the main intended purpose (i.e. isotonic solutions, electrolytes plus energy sources, etc.), and knowing which one to choose is critical for a prompt recovery.

The wrong fluid therapy can result in unbalances in the body electrolytes or even further losses aggravating the calf’s condition. One thing to consider however is that most milk replacers are made with cheese whey. As a result, these milk replacers have higher concentrations of sodium (up to 2% or 17–80 mmol/L). In addition, they also contain high concentrations of lactose ranging from 140 to 230 mmol/L.

This results in higher overall solids per liter of solution and greater osmolality resulting in more body fluid passing into the intestinal lumen. If in addition sugar (dextrose) and minerals (electrolytes) are added to the solution, then its osmolality can easily exceed 600 mOsm/kg.

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