When compared with other domestic livestock, the water buffalo generally is a healthy animal. This is particularly impressive because most of them live in hot, humid regions that are conducive to disease, and the buffalo is a bovine susceptible to most diseases and parasites that afflict cattle. Although the reasons are not specifically known, the effect of disease on the buffalo and its productivity is often less deleterious than on cattle.
Antibiotics and vaccines developed for cattle work equally well on buffaloes. As a result, treatments are available for most of the serious diseases of buffaloes, although some are not very effective for either animal.
The greatest buffalo losses are often among calves. Newborn buffalo calves, like bovine calves, can succumb in large numbers to viruses, bacteria, and poor nutrition. This is largely due to poor management during the calf's first 2 months of life. For example, as noted previously, villagers in some countries often sell the valuable buffalo milk, thus depriving the calves.
Buffalo calf losses are often similar to those of the cattle around them, but the animal's proclivity for wallowing exposes calves to waterborne diseases. Further, a young one occasionally drowns when an adult rolls on top of it.
Reactions to some specific diseases and parasites are discussed below.
Pasteurellosis- Probably the water buffalo's most serious disease, pasteurellosis, or hemorrhagic septicemia, is caused by the bacterium Pasteurella multocida (P. septica). Buffaloes are more susceptible to it than cattle and die in large numbers where pasteurellosis occurs. A vaccine against pasteurellosis is effective in protecting both buffaloes and cattle; it is cheap and easily made.
Tuberculosis- Despite some claims to the contrary, the water buffalo is susceptible to the bovine strain of tuberculosis (Alycobacterium bovis). Scattered reports from different parts of India indicate no difference in the incidence of infection between cattle and buffaloes(Information supplied by S. K. Misra, Department of Veterinary Medicine, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, Punjab, India). Other strains of mycobacteria have been isolated from feral buffaloes and cattle in northern Australia but seem to have little effect on the animals. Tuberculosis occurs among the buffalo herds of the world only because most are kept under unsanitary conditions(In 1905 buffaloes were introduced to Trinidad because the cattle herds (Zebu and srahman breeds) were infected with tuberculosis and, in those days, it was thought that buffaloes were resistant to the disease. Most were housed in muddy, ill-kept pens and forced to eat sugarcane tops off the ground; consequently, in 1949 over 30 percent of the buffaloes reacted to the tuberculin test. (The cattle herds had 80 percent reactors.) Tuberculosis was eliminated in Trinidad's buffaloes by improving the sanitary conditions: installing concrete floors and mangers and cleaning the pens regularly. This, together with regular tuberculin testing and removal of reactors, led to such a dramatic improvement that buffalo tuberculosis is now virtually unknown. -Information supplied by S. K. Bennett.)
Brucellosis-Buffaloes and cattle are equally susceptible to brucellosis. Although seldom reported as a problem elsewhere, brucellosis in Venezuela is increasing more rapidly among buffaloes than among cattle. In India the disease is no more prevalent among buffaloes than among cattle. As many as 57 percent of some Venezuelan herds are infected with the disease. It is a frequent cause of abortion in buffaloes. Serologic procedures and measures developed for the control of the disease in cattle are also effective means of curbing this infection in buffaloes. (Consumption of raw milk or contact with aborted fetuses may cause undulant fever in humans.)
Mastitis- Among milking buffaloes mastitis is a problem as it is in dairy cows, but to a lesser extent. It is likely to increase, however, as the milk production per individual buffalo is increased. The bacteria that cause mastitis in the buffalo are similar to those in cattle. Treatment and control programs used for cattle are equally effective for buffaloes.
Other Diseases -Among the epizootic diseases, rinderpest and piroplasmosis seem to affect buffaloes as much as cattle. Foot-and-mouth disease also affects buffaloes, but to a lesser degree than cattle, producing smaller lesions and having a lower incidence. In northern Australia buffaloes deliberately infected with bovine pleuropneumonia bacteria exhibited slight fever, but the disease never appeared. No naturally occurring eases have been reported in buffaloes.
Ticks -Buffaloes are notably resistant, although not immune, to ticks. In a tick-infested area of northern Australia only 2 engorged female ticks were found on 13 adult buffaloes during a 2-year test. Accordingly, healthy buffaloes are not commonly affected by diseases borne by ticks nor are the hides damaged by their bites. Since ticks are rarely found on buffaloes, anaplasmosis, theileriasis, and babesiosis, which are tick-borne, have little effect on buffaloes in the field. (Buffaloes and cattle are equally susceptible, however, if inoculated with East Coast fever, a form of theileriasis.) This is important because tick infestations in cattle are particularly troublesome in the tropics and the pesticides used to control them are becoming ineffective as the ticks develop resistance. The pesticides are also becoming expensive.
The basis of the buffalo's tick resistance is not known, but wallowing and rubbing may play a role in it; animals kept in experimental concrete pens in Australia have developed heavy tick infestation. (rials carried out on Magnetic Island by R. H. V/harton, Commonwealth Scientiflc and Industrial Research Organisation, Townsville, Queensland, Australia).
Table 6 Some Infections and Parasites of Buffalo
Screwworm- Larvae of the screwworm fly (Callitroge species), a major pest of livestock in Central and South America and some other tropical areas, do not affect adult water buffalo. In Venezuelan areas where cattle (Zebu type) are severely infested, adult water buffaloes are virtually free of screwworm larvae and the umbilicus of newborn calves seldom if ever becomes infected. ( Information supplied by A. Ferrer).
The same is true in Papua New Guinea. It is thought that the mud plaster produced by wallowing suffocates the larvae, but in India screwworms do not affect water buffaloes either, and there they wallow in fairly clear water and the farmer usually washes them off.
Roundworm- The heavy losses of young buffalo calves throughout the world are caused, in large measure, by the roundworm Toxocara vitulorum. The calves seem more susceptible than mature animals and they become infected before birth or within 24 hours after birth through the mother's colostrum. The roundworm is the most serious buffalo parasite and in untreated calves the small intestine can get packed with worms to the point of complete occlusion. Although huge numbers of calves die each year, anthelmintic drugs that control roundworms are highly effective and widely available.
The adult water buffalo appears to have a high degree of resistance to strongyloid nematodes. Being such excellent converters of rough fodders they do not suffer the nutritional deficiency and the resulting liability to these roundworms experienced seasonally by cattle.
Liver Fluke- During wallowing, water buffaloes can easily become infected with the waterborne infective stages of liver fluke (Fasciola gigantica). Although the number of flukes in a buffalo may be phenomenally high, no clinical signs of the disease are usually evident. It seems likely that the resulting liver damage reduces the growth and the work and milk production of buffaloes more than is generally appreciated.
Trypanosomiasis- The water buffalo is susceptible to trypanosomiasis and is reportedly more susceptible than cattle to Trypanosoma evansi.Experience with the animal in Africa is limited, but trypanosomiasis may be the reason why Egypt is the only African country that has traditionally employed water buffalo.
Other Parasites- The wallow and its resulting mud cake seem to protect water buffalo from many biting flies, but the main ectoparasite in Australia and Southeast Asia is the buffalo fly (Siphona spp.). Pediculosis, caused by the sucking louse (Hematopinus tuberculatus), occurs widely among buffalo, and sarcoptic mange (Sarcoptes scabiei var. bubalus) is a serious disease, especially among calves and during dry seasons when wallowing opportunities are restricted. The lung worm Dictyocaulus ririparus thrives in warm, humid areas and sometimes infects buffaloes heavily, although its outward manifestations are rare.
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