Experts explore the complexities of pinkeye, how to reduce impact

Cattle producers and their veterinarians are no strangers to pinkeye, for it continues to be a frustrating and costly problem. It is not uncommon to see huge problems with pinkeye in a given year or on a given operation, but little to no problem the next year or on the neighboring operation – and it is not at all clear what the producer did or did not do that led to the difference.

Merck Animal Health wanted to explore this disease further, so we invited renowned veterinarians and researchers – all well-versed in the science of pinkeye – to participate in a roundtable discussion to dig deeper into pinkeye, what’s causing it, and what tools can be used to reduce its impact both now and in the future. 

A group of veterinarians stands for a photo.

We started with the basics: What is pinkeye and what causes it?

  • Experts agreed that pinkeye is almost always secondary to an injury or insult to the eye. That is, corneal damage is generally necessary for pinkeye to develop.
  • It is characterized by corneal infection and ulceration, as well as inflammation of the non-corneal surfaces of the eye that can involve one or both eyes.
  • It is typically observed in calves, and clinical signs begin with tearing, tear staining and squinting.
  • Corneal ulceration may ultimately lead to blindness in some cases.
  • The disease triangle – host, pathogen, environment – is particularly applicable to pinkeye. All three are important and must be considered in any prevention plan.

Given the multifactorial nature of pinkeye, a combination approach provides the best opportunity for preventing the disease:

  • Consider your facility and pasture management approach and how to minimize opportunities for corneal damage. Female face flies have mouthparts specifically designed to irritate the eye to stimulate production of the ocular discharges upon which they feed. Clipping pastures and fly control remain important prevention methods.
  • Prepare your animals for the disease challenge. Minimize stressors, including parasitism. Provide adequate protein, energy, vitamins and minerals. If possible, prepare cattle with two doses of commercially available Moraxella bovis and Moraxella bovoculi vaccine. Learn more about Merck Animal Health’s pinkeye offerings.
  • Your local veterinarian can play an important role here, providing guidance on the best way to approach pinkeye control, from vaccination protocols to environmental management.

While pinkeye still poses many questions, I left the discussion feeling encouraged that we have smart, experienced experts working tirelessly on this topic. I’m encouraged by the tools and practices we have at hand to mitigate this challenge as much as possible, and I’m encouraged by the progress we’ll make in the future to equip producers with even more solutions.

Read the report to explore more perspectives on pinkeye.

A big thank you to the individuals who participated in this discussion:

  • John Angelos, DVM, Ph.D., University of California, Davis
  • Bill Epperson, DVM, M.S., Mississippi State University
  • Paola Elizalde, DVM, Ph.D. candidate, University of Saskatchewan
  • Annette O’Connor, DVM, Michigan State University
  • Dustin Loy, DVM, Ph.D., University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Mac Kneipp, DVM, Ph.D., University of Sydney

Find more content for your beef operation.

About the author

Dr. Midla

Lowell Midla

V.M.D., M.S.
Technical Services Veterinarian,
Merck Animal Health