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Dairy Cattle Health Updates, Advice and Tips from Devoted Vets

Nervous acetonaemia – ketosis

Background: Acetonaemia or ketosis is an important disease of dairy cattle because it causes weight loss and milk production loss often immediately after calving.

There are two common causes of acetonaemia:

  • Primary acetonaemia occurs when a cow is fed insufficient energy to maintain production, or when a cow calves in fat condition and loses too much body condition immediately after calving.
  • Secondary acetonaemia occurs when other diseases – for example displaced fourth stomach or wooden tongue – cause reduced appetite and weight loss.

When excess body fat is mobilised or used in response to the conditions above, by-products called ketones reach excessive levels in the cow’s blood stream, and cause the symptoms of acetonaemia.

Ketosis is also associated with milk fever because subclinical low calcium levels can cause poor digestion and therefore low energy absorbtion.

The signs of acetonaemia or ketosis:

  • Body weight and production loss
  • Depression
  • Sometimes a change in behaviour: chewing, licking, frenzy, apparent blindness, circling,
    head pushing, aggression – “nervous acetonaemia”.

Ketones are detected in the urine of cows with test strips, and these chemicals can
also be smelt on their breath. Blood tests can be taken to check for acetonaemia if the diagnosis is in doubt.

A full veterinary examination is strongly recommended if you suspect a cow has acetonaemia. The examination can rule out the diseases that cause secondary acetonaemia. In addition, the best treatment is an injection of cortisone. Because cortisone lowers resistance to infection, and is a restricted drug, its use should be preceded by a full veterinary examination.


  1. 500 mls of dextrose intravenously.
  2. Ketol or Acedex 250 mls orally twice daily for 2 days followed by 125 mls twice daily for 2 days.
  3. 5 mls of B Complex by intramuscular injection daily for support and cobalt supplementation.
  4. An injection of cortisone by a veterinary surgeon.

Is there a herd problem?

If a herd problem is suspect due to multiple cows showing signs of acetonaemia, selected cows can be tested for ketones in the urine, or their blood sampled for testing ketones and glucose. Low milk protein in the vat may also suggest a herd problem.

Cows should be checked for either excessive or inadequate body condition at calving.

Their nutrition should be checked for low pasture heights, poor quality pasture, poor quality or excess quantity of poor quality fodders or inadequate quantity of high energy rations, pellets or grain.

Their precalving ration should be checked for strategies that promote high blood calcium levels – for example, high fibre levels and magnesium supplementation.

If there is a herd problem, Devoted Vets at Warragul Vet Clinic, West Gippsland can provide a farm visit to assess nutrition. Phone the clinic on 5623 2525 for further advice.