Tube feeding milk to young calves can cause D-lactic acidosis, says Don Sockett, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. At a Land O’ Lakes Purina Feed veterinary meeting, Sockett explained that D- and L-lactate are produced in the rumen as a complication of tube feeding, abomasal reflux or incomplete closure of the abomasal groove, and metabolic acidosis can develop. D-lactic acid inhibits brain energy metabolism and there can be a marked reduction in ATP production and neurotransmitter release.

Calves exhibit a marked depression, abnormal posture and ataxia, a normal suckle reflex but often have difficulty drinking, and an abnormal (slow or absent) palpebral reflex and menace response.

Sockett says treatment of D-lactic acidosis includes:

  • Bottle feed 2 liters of warm milk or milk replacer (do not force feed)
  • Give bicarbonate and glucose containing oral electrolytes (1-2 liters TID)
  • Oral amoxicillin 3-5 days (10 mg/kg BID)
  • Give 3-4 liters of isotonic sodium bicarbonate IV or SubQ containing 5% glucose
  • Shot of thiamine (10 mg/kg) IM
  • Sockett says do not use lactated Ringer’s solution in calves