Best Practices for BRD Diagnostic Testing

The complex nature of bovine respiratory disease, or BRD, makes establishing a universal gold standard for diagnosis and treatment challenging. Dr. Curt Vlietstra, a senior professional services veterinarian at Boehringer Ingelheim, explains why diagnostics may be the missing piece to your BRD management puzzle.

“There’s so many variables that can affect disease risk. The enemy, the pathogens that we’re trying to combat, are going to change frequently. And if you don’t have diagnostics. sometimes you really skew your management efforts towards a certain pathogen, and then as those pathogens change your management isn’t as effective. And if you wouldn’t do diagnostics to know, you just get frustrated and potentially give up or throw the kitchen sink and end up over treating calves and still not be unhappy with the results.” 

Vlietstra explains how diagnostic testing works.

“A producer will visit with a veterinarian, say we’re having some issues with calf health, and veterinarian will come out collect some diagnostic samples, develop a plan to be able to know which animals to sample, which types of samples to collect, and then submit those to a diagnostic lab and then help them interpret the results. Historically, most of those samples were taken from dead calves whether they died from disease or they were euthanized, and recently we’ve really made some significant gains in the tests that we can run on live or antemortem tests.” 

Laboratory tests are only helpful if the samples submitted are a good representation of what’s causing the initial problem. Vlietstra offers some tips for ensuring accurate test results.

“Diagnostics are definitely an example of a garbage in, garbage out scenario where if you would only look at animals that are very advanced in the course of the disease, that’s not likely going to provide helpful information to you in terms of prevention and management. So, sampling animals that are acutely ill and pretreatment is going to give you very good information. Sending samples to a diagnostic lab as soon as possible, these aren’t overnight type results. So, we need to get them collected well and preserved well, and I’m a big fan of frequent communication with the diagnostic lab as the test results come in, rather than waiting for the final report. So, the veterinarians again are going to be that conduit between a farm, and the diagnostic labs.” 

He adds its important to work with a local veterinarian.

“The majority of diagnostic labs will require that a veterinarian of record is involved in the submission and reporting process, but the reason they do that is to ensure that the results are going to be interpreted properly and implemented properly. Especially a veterinarian that has frequent interactions with the farm, it’s going to be able to know disease history, what’s normal and what’s abnormal, help to determine which types of tests in which animals to sample, and again making sure that whole submission process, all these steps along the way, anything that goes wrong, is going to impact the validity of the results and potentially lead to bad information that leads to frustrating interpretation and poor implementation of the results.” 

Contact your herd veterinarian to learn more.