“Winter” Pink Eye in Calves and Yearlings


We have seen a recent run of “winter” pink eye in calves this year. Pinkeye is also know as Infectious Bovine Keratoconjunctivitis, or IBK.

These calves are showing up with the classic symptoms of a discreet round ulcer in the middle of the eye, accompanied by tears, squinting, and a bluish haze to the eye (which is edema). A few herds have experienced concurrent respiratory symptoms and fever, as well as decreases in weight gain.


The majority of these calves have been pre-conditioned and well vaccinated as a lot of them are destined to be replacement heifers. Affected calves are born out of cows of all ages -so they are not necessarily out of the young cows with less immunity than their solid mouth counterparts.

Not Just A Poke In The Eye

Many producers have expressed concern that theses calves are simply getting poked in the eye by stemmy feed stuffs. They have pointed out the lesions in the eye to me as evidence that it looks exactly like they were poked in the eye. Many of the organisms that cause pinkeye contain an actual toxin that damages the cornea and gives the appearance of a puncture wound. So while a piece of hay or other foreign material could poke a calf in the eye and initiate a bout of pinkeye, it is not strictly necessary.

The Test Results

We have had the opportunity to actually swab and submit samples from many of the affected herds this fall. Results have overwhelmingly came back as Mor bovoculi mixed with the respiratory organism Mycoplasma bovis, and not the typical pinkeye agent called Moraxella bovis.

Not The Usual Pink Eye

The “classic” causative agent of pinkeye is Moraxella bovis, so the agents causing most of the current cases of pinkeye are not the usual suspects. This is important because there is no commercially available vaccine for Mor bovoculi. There have not been a lot of studies done yet on Mor Bovoculi. The studies that have been done indicate that Mor Bovoculi usually needs assistance from some other virus or organism to cause full blow pink eye. In our particular area, those “helper pathogens” appear to be Mycoplasma bovis and Moraxella bovis. While there is a vaccination for Moraxella bovis, it is not a vaccine that a lot of producers use routinely.


The only medications that are labeled for treatment of pinkeye are oxytetracycline (Pro LA 300) and tulathromycin (Draxxin). If there is a respiratory component, then Draxxin may be the best choice as it also has a label claim for treatment of respiratory disease associated with Mycoplasma bovis. However, the price tag on a dose of Draxxin may be prohibitive if you have to treat a large number of animals.

The Importance of Trace Minerals

We know that trace minerals like copper and selenium are critically important in maintaining a healthy immune system. For this reason, I am a big proponent of Multi-Min, given as an injectable at branding and pre-conditioning. While trace minerals are present in the liquid feed like Loomix, absorption of these trace minerals from the gut are poor. So, they should be administered as an injection. I know it’s another shot to give, but I think the potential pay off is too big to ignore.


As discussed previously, there is not a commercially available vaccine for Mor bovoculi. Producers that want a vaccine are getting autogenous vaccinations custom made. These vaccines are made from swabs containing pathogens from calves in their herd, or in a neighboring herd. Some of these vaccines contain a combination of pathogens, the most popular combination being Mor bovoculi, Mycoplasma, and Moraxella bovis. While autogenous vaccines certainly have a place, they are NOT a silver bullet for disease prevention.

The Bottom Line

If you are seeing pink eye in your calves, call one of our veterinarians to discuss treatment and prevention strategies for next year. Its important that we actually evaluate your animals individually and not assume that the pinkeye that your calves are experiencing is caused by the same agent as your neighbor. Moreover, it’s a good time to re-evaluate your vaccination protocols at branding, pre-conditioning, and bangs vaccination, specifically for replacement heifers.