• Open Access

Metabolic Acidosis in Neonatal Calf Diarrhea—Clinical Findings and Theoretical Assessment of a Simple Treatment Protocol


Corresponding author: Florian Markus Trefz, Dr med. vet, Clinic for Ruminants, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, Sonnenstraße 16, 85764 Oberschleißheim, Germany; e-mail: Florian.Trefz@campus.lmu.de.



Clinical assessment of metabolic acidosis in calves with neonatal diarrhea can be difficult because increased blood concentrations of d-lactate and not acidemia per se are responsible for most of the clinical signs exhibited by these animals.


To describe the correlation between clinical and laboratory findings and d-lactate concentrations. Furthermore, the theoretical outcome of a simplified treatment protocol based on posture/ability to stand and degree of dehydration was evaluated.


A total of 121 calves with diagnosis of neonatal diarrhea admitted to a veterinary teaching hospital during an 8-month study period.


Prospective blinded cohort study. Physical examinations were carried out following a standardized protocol. Theoretical outcome of treatment was calculated.


Type and degree of metabolic acidosis were age dependent. The clinical parameters posture, behavior, and palpebral reflex were closely correlated to base excess (r = 0.74, 0.78, 0.68; P < .001) and d-lactate concentrations (r = 0.59, 0.59, 0.71; P < .001), respectively. Thus, determining the degree of loss of the palpebral reflex was identified as the best clinical tool for diagnosing increase in serum d-lactate concentrations. Theoretical outcome of treatment revealed that the tested dosages of sodium bicarbonate are more likely to overdose than to underdose calves with diarrhea and metabolic acidosis.

Conclusions and Clinical Importance

The degree of metabolic acidosis in diarrheic calves can be predicted based on clinical findings. The assessed protocol provides a useful tool to determine bicarbonate requirements, but a revision is necessary for calves with ability to stand and marked metabolic acidosis.