White Muscle Disease in Cattle

What is White Muscle Disease?

White muscle disease is a myodegenerative disorder of cattle, known as nutritional myopathy of calves, is normally is seen in young calves and is related to deficiencies of selenium and/or vitamin E. White muscle disease may present itself in two forms; 1. A congenital form that affects the cardiac muscle 2. A delayed form that is associated with either cardiac or skeletal muscle.

Forage and feeds grown in locations where the soil is selenium-deficient results in decreased uptake by the plant thus making the feed selenium-deficient. Vitamin E deficiency can be associated with large amounts of unsaturated fatty acids and other peroxide-forming substances in the diet. Another cause of selenium deficiency in cattle is the result of antagonistic effects of particular metals for example silver, copper, cobalt, mercury and tin.

What are the Symptoms of White Muscle Disease?

Calves affected by the congenital form of white muscle disease usually die within 3 days of birth due degeneration of cardiac muscle. . These calves will show signs of uncomfortable and laboured breathing due to cardiac failure as pericardial and pleural effusion develop.

Cattle affected by the delayed form or white muscle disease may display indications from general unthrift and stiffness, to walking with an arched back and spending abnormal amounts of time resting and recumbent, depending on the level of selenium deficiency.

Often, the delayed form is induced by strenuous exercise but if chronically affected, cattle can display splayed toes and a relaxation to the shoulder girdle. A calf affected severely may die of malnutrition due to being unable to nurse properly due to weakness. There is also skeletal muscle lesions associated with the delayed form of white muscle disease and are usually bilaterally symmetrical and can affect one or more muscle groups. The muscle will have white striations and feel dry and chalky due to abnormal calcium deposits.


Contact Lonsdale Livestock to discuss a customised solution to combatting white muscle disease.


To prevent white muscle disease within four weeks after birth, cows are given selenium, usually as sodium selenite four weeks before calving.

To prevent the delayed type, calves are given of selenium at two to four weeks of age and twice more at monthly intervals. A selenium and vitamin E mixture is advocated in some areas. Other methods of selenium supplementation include administration of intraruminal selenium pellets, use of selenium-fortified salt or mineral mixtures, SC implantation of selenium pellets, or soil application of selenium at in fertiliser.

Adding selenium to feed for breeding animals or their young is useful in areas of known deficiency. It is added as sodium selenite, which contains approximately 46 per cent selenium. Beware: the minute quantities involved and the toxicity of excess intake, premixing and thorough subsequent mixing is necessary. In some countries, addition of selenium to feeds is controlled by law, and appropriate authorities should be consulted; in all areas, caution in the use of selenium is paramount.


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