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Ketosis - The Gist of It

Are your cows lethargic, depressed, or just not performing where they should be? Ketosis may be the problem!

Ketosis - the gist of it.

Ketosis occurs when ‘energy out’ is greater than ‘energy in’. Fat is rapidly mobilised leading to a build-up of ketone bodies in the blood.

High risk times are post calving, peak milk production, and sudden drops in available feed.

Whole herd effects of subclinical (‘invisible’) ketosis

  • Decreased milk production

  • Lower 6 week in calf rates

  • Increased risk of endometritis, retained membranes and displaced abomasum

freestyle optimum neo

Signs of clinical ketosis

  • Head down, lagging behind

  • Decreased eating

  • Uncoordinated

  • Excessive licking


  • Monitor BCS and aim to calve around 5.5

  • Minimise weight loss by providing high quality, sufficient feed

  • Increase food conversion efficiency e.g. Rumen

Diagnose using a cowside blood test and treat with oral Ketol + rest

treat with oral ketol

What is ketosis?

Ketosis occurs when cows have a negative energy balance. It’s most commonly seen with sudden drops in feed intake (poor weather, floods, underfeeding etc), post calving, and peak lactation. A negative energy balance leads to the body rapidly mobilising its fat stores, resulting in over production of ketone bodies. The predominant ketone body is beta-hydroxybutyric acid (BHBA).

How can I identify a cow with ketosis?

Ketosis can be clinical (CK) or subclinical (SCK). CK has both a wasting form and a nervous form. With the wasting form, symptoms include cows lagging behind, dull, heads down, decreased feed intake, and becoming ‘down’. Individuals with the nervous form may appear uncoordinated, excitable and aggressive. Their behaviour can become neurological to include walking in circles, licking posts, and eating dirt.

How does ketosis affect production?

A decrease in DM intake has direct effects on milk production, if BHBA is above 1.8mmol/L in the first week of lactation approximately 25kgMS is lost. With BHBA at this level, ketosis often remains subclinical and difficult to detect, so when cases of CK are seen they can easily be ‘the tip of the iceberg’ indicating a much larger issue, and hefty milk production losses over the whole herd. SCK can also cause a 7% reduction in 6-week in calf rates, and increased risk of other diseases such as endometritis, displaced abomasum, and retained foetal membranes.

How can I prevent ketosis?

Prevention begins before the ‘high risk’ period. Monitoring BCS and promoting consistent feed intake throughout late lactation and the dry period, with an aim to calve around 5.5 (preferable over higher BCS of 6.0) can decrease risk of ketosis.

A post calving diet should promote a fast and sustained increase in feed and energy consumption in order to minimise fat mobilisation.

Rumenox is a great product available in both water soluble granules or dry premix. It works by altering rumen fermentation to increase feed efficiency, reducing risk of ketosis and bloat.

I suspect my cows have ketosis - what next?

freestyle optimum neo

Diagnosing CK can be as simple as measuring the BHBA levels in the blood, and this can be done cowside by your vet. Treatment is as easy as oral drenching with KETOL (propylene glycol) daily for 3-5 days, increasing carbohydrates in the diet (maize, molasses), and stopping milking for a few days.

If you suspect you have ketosis or would like to discuss further, then please have a chat to one of our team here at FVM.

rumenox helps a cow rumen function better.


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