The Hidden Danger of Subclinical Ketosis

Taking control of subclinical ketosis can be tricky, after all its very nature as a low level rumbling problem, rather than a full blown clinical case, makes it harder to spot and, as a result, more difficult to both prevent and treat.

But there are ways to overcome the issue and the first of those is to ensure cows are at as little risk of subclinical ketosis as possible – prevention is better than cure.

Ketosis is caused by cows being unable to match energy intake to the surge in energy requirements in the immediate post-calving period, therefore the first step in any prevention plan should be to speak to your vet and nutritionist about appropriate diets in the transition period.

When considering which cows will be at risk, there are several factors to be considered. The first is body condition score, with over-conditioned cows at a BCS of 3.5 or higher at particular risk. Those animals that suffered from diseases linked to negative energy balance (retained placenta, ketosis, displaced abomasum, metritis) in the previous lactation also have a higher risk of developing ketosis, as are older cows (lactation number 3 and above).

Subclinical ketosis is most often a problem in the first two weeks post calving, making careful monitoring of fresh cows a key part of the management plan to combat the problem.

Of course spotting at-risk cows or those suffering with subclinical ketosis isn’t a straightforward process. Elanco’s Keto-Test™ can be used to check milk samples of cows in the first three weeks post-calving. This quick, cow-side test gives a rapid indication if subclinical ketosis is an issue and allows action to be taken quickly to help cows overcome any problems.  On farm blood testing using handheld monitors can also be very valuable.  Please speak to your vet if you would like to know more.

With subclinical ketosis causing a wide range of problems, including delays in returning to heat, resulting in an increased time to first service and potentially an increased calving interval, an early ‘heads up’ could be extremely valuable.

Alongside this, there are more obvious economic issues for cows with subclinical ketosis as they tend to be predisposed to ovarian cysts, as well as being more likely to suffer with metritis and mastitis.

Importantly, subclinical ketosis sufferers are also more at risk of developing a displaced abomasum, further impacting milk yields and overall cow health, increasing the economic impact of the condition.

Prevention is always better than cure, but the reality is that in the case of subclinical ketosis, prevention isn’t always going to be possible simply due to the challenges facing modern dairy cows. Working with one of our vets to identify at risk cows in the dry period and deal swiftly with any cases identified post calving can limit both yield losses and the impact from the secondary issues associated with subclinical ketosis.

Have a chat with your vet next time they are on-farm or call the practice to discuss ketosis.