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Australia - How to reduce the risk of summer pneumonia

Summer temperatures in the southeast states of Australia can hit 40C or more, then drop dramatically and rapidly as cold fronts roll in. These temperature extremes are a challenge for people and beasts alike. One common finding during summer, particularly in young stock such as weaners, is pneumonia.

The disease can be difficult to identify in livestock because early signs are subtle — a reduced feed intake and mildly increased breathing rate. It’s even harder to pick up in sheep in full wool because it is more difficult to see weight loss. Early symptoms can rapidly progress to severe pneumonia with the animal struggling to breathe, which can lead to death. On some properties it can be a big problem, particularly in recently weaned animals.

It’s impossible to control the summer weather, but there are steps you can take to reduce the potential of summer pneumonia. The key environmental influences that exacerbate the problem are dust, flies, animal stress, unbalanced diet and inadequate shelter for livestock.


When an animal inhales dust, hairlike cilia that line the windpipe help move the dust and mucous out of the body. This system can be overloaded if there is too much dust, allowing bacteria to get deep into the lungs and cause summer pneumonia.

It is a good idea to water livestock yards with a sprinkler to reduce dust when animals are being handled, or handle stock in yards immediately after rain.

Move stock in early morning or late afternoon, when temperatures are lower, to reduce overall stress and to avoid having them in yards in full sun.


How and when you handle livestock has a big impact on their stress levels and this in turn affects their immunity and ability to fight disease. Handling livestock quietly and calmly reduces their overall stress. Droving animals slowly, rather than driving them quickly, and keeping use of aggressive dogs to a minimum will also help minimise stress.

If livestock don’t have adequate shade in paddocks this can cause stress and increase chances of respiratory disease.

If hot weather is forecast, stock should be in paddocks with adequate trees, shrubs or shelters to provide shade to help reduce temperature.


Controlling flies can reduce transmission of diseases between animals. There are a range of options available to reduce fly impact on livestock, including chemical products that can be applied to cattle or insect trapping devices on farm. Each farm’s needs are different, so speak to a vet to discuss strategies and products suited to your property.


An animal’s diet plays a key role in maintaining their immune system — minimum levels of particular vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, D, E and selenium, along with adequate fibre in the diet for gut health are important in immune system function.

The most important parts of the diet to get right are energy and protein. But macronutrients supply important components for immune system function, particularly important when feeding a concentrate diet over a few months.


Access to water is also crucial. Animals need sufficient quality and quantity to maintain health. If you use bore water during summer months it’s worthwhile testing quality to make sure it doesn’t contain too much salt or have other impurities. Make sure troughs have adequate drinking space and volume for the number of stock in a paddock. Check dams to make sure stock can access water without getting stuck.


For some species, such as cattle, vaccinations against both viral and bacterial causes of summer pneumonia are available. However, for sheep there are no current registered vaccines. Be vigilant for the following symptoms: eating less, an increased temperature, losing weight, at later stages an elevated breathing rate and eventually obvious difficulty in breathing and increased lung sounds. Monitor stock closely following changes in weather.

If you believe your animals may have pneumonia, contact your vet as soon as possible. The animals require quick treatment, usually with antibiotics, to improve their chances of survival.

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