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Overview of Management and Nutrition in Animals


Robert Tremblay

, DVM, DVSc, DACVIM, Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada) Ltd

Last full review/revision Nov 2021 | Content last modified Mar 2022

Domesticated animals rely on care providers to meet their physiological and behavioral needs. Consequently, management and nutrition are essential to animals' health and well-being. This is especially true in agriculture, in which production methods demand a high level of animal productivity. With continued advances, production systems have tended to become intensified, requiring continual adaptation in management and nutritional practices to ensure that they do not limit animal well-being, health, or production.

Despite improvements in production systems, infectious diseases remain an important health concern, especially in young animals. Proper management and nutrition are central to preventing and controlling most infectious and noninfectious diseases.

Infectious diseases require successful colonization by a specific infectious organism (eg, a bacterium, virus, parasite); however, the mere presence of the microbe is usually insufficient for disease to develop. Environmental and host factors influence whether an animal develops clinical disease or has impaired productivity after infection. Management practices should limit exposure to microbes and mitigate circumstances that predispose animals to the development of clinical and subclinical illness after exposure.

The most effective management method to prevent infectious disease is to eradicate and exclude the organism(s) causing the disease via biosecurity Biosecurity of Animals The tenets of biosecurity have been long recognized by veterinarians. However, throughout the past decades, interest in biosecurity as a scientific discipline has surged because of 1) disease... read more . Eradication and biosecurity are the pillars of managing exotic diseases; typically, however, their implementation is impractical for common endemic diseases.

However, there have been successes in eradication at the national, regional, and farm levels for previously endemic diseases. For example, governments, producer organizations, and individual producers have initiated eradication programs against pathogens such as bovine virus diarrhea viruses Bovine Viral Diarrhea and Mucosal Disease Complex Bovine viral diarrhea/mucosal disease is a pestivirus infection of cattle and other ruminants. Infection leads to immunosuppression and can cause signs in multiple body systems in addition to... read more and bovine herpesvirus 1. The swine and poultry industries successfully use eradication and biosecurity at the farm level as part of basic herd or flock management to control many diseases.

Because eradication is not feasible for all infectious organisms, the objective of management strategies is to control, rather than eliminate, the disease itself. This often involves identifying and reducing circumstances that favor transmission of the infectious agent, mitigating environmental conditions that contribute to development of disease, and minimizing circumstances that increase host susceptibility. The circumstances that contribute to the development of disease are called risk factors for that disease. Risk factors may be related to the microbe, the animal’s environment, or the animal itself. Identifying and mitigating these risk factors is one goal of the management strategy to prevent a specific disease and to maintain productivity.

Many common diseases have a complex etiology involving interaction of more than one microbe. Others are caused by pathogens for which there are no reliable treatments (eg, viruses, some parasites) or no specific preventive measures (eg, cryptosporidiosis Cryptosporidiosis in Animals Cryptosporidiosis is a highly prevalent gastrointestinal parasitic disease caused by protozoan species of the genus Cryptosporidium that infect a wide range of animals, including people... read more Cryptosporidiosis in Animals in calves). Prevention and control of these diseases depends on using a management strategy to mitigate risk factors for infection and disease development. These control strategies include general management practices, not necessarily targeting a specific infectious organism, and management practices to address risk factors that are specific for particular pathogens.

Multifaceted approaches using many management practices are the most effective ways to control and prevent common infectious and noninfectious diseases in food animal production. Examples of endemic diseases that require a multifaceted approach include pneumonia in calves and piglets, gastrointestinal disease in neonates, bovine respiratory disease complex in feedlot cattle, infectious causes of infertility, mastitis Mastitis in Cattle With few exceptions, mastitis occurs when microbes enter the teat via the teat canal. Almost any microbe can opportunistically invade the teat canal and cause mastitis. However, most infections... read more Mastitis in Cattle in dairy cows, and metabolic diseases in dairy cows. Similarly, certain diseases in companion animals, such as respiratory disease in catteries, kennel cough Kennel Cough Kennel cough results from inflammation of the trachea. It is a mild, self-limiting disease but may progress to bronchopneumonia in puppies or to chronic bronchitis in debilitated adult or aged... read more in canine boarding facilities, and infectious and allergic respiratory disease in horses (eg, recurrent airway obstruction Recurrent Airway Obstruction in Horses Recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) is a common, performance-limiting, allergic respiratory disease of horses characterized by chronic cough, nasal discharge, and respiratory difficulty. Episodes... read more Recurrent Airway Obstruction in Horses ), are more effectively controlled by management of risk factors.

The need to implement multifaceted management strategies to maintain health and enhance productivity of animals is likely to increase as automation of animal monitoring, feeding, and milking replaces direct observation of animals. Dairy production systems can use automated monitoring tools to detect estrus, detect lameness, monitor body condition, and evaluate behavior at the feed bunk.

Consumers and interest groups often pressure those involved in animal agriculture to address concerns about some current industry practices. Examples of these concerns are potential links between drug use in animals and antimicrobial resistance in human pathogens, animal waste management and environmental contamination in intensive production systems, the role of management practices in foodborne illnesses and maintenance of zoonotic pathogens, and the impact of certain management practices on animal welfare.

Even if there is not conclusive evidence linking animal production to public health issues, management practices will almost certainly be reevaluated in response to the perception of such links and changed as appropriate. Changes to management practices will take different approaches; however, they must still focus on maintaining animal health and production. Often, identifying and making changes requires investment in research to ensure any management changes are practical and likely to achieve the desired outcome.

Nutritional management is part of overall animal management and is essential to health and productivity. Nutrition plays a role in influencing the animal's susceptibility to disease (eg, feline lower urinary tract disease) as well as in managing certain diseases (eg, diabetes Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs and Cats Diabetes mellitus is a common endocrine disease in dogs and cats, occurring in about 1 of every 300 patients. Clinical signs reflect hyperglycemia with resultant glycosuria. Diagnosis is made... read more in companion animals, hyperlipidemia, clinical and subclinical ketosis Ketosis in Cattle Ketosis is an elevated concentration of ketone bodies (acetone, acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate) in all body fluids. Key clinical signs of ketosis are vague but include anorexia, decreased... read more Ketosis in Cattle in dairy cattle). Rations/diets must meet basic physiologic needs (eg, energy, protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals) of the animal and ensure optimal growth and productivity. Nutritional management should consider digestive function, age, sex, breed, lactation status, and gestational status, as well as physical activity and environmental conditions.

Nutritionally related diseases include diseases of nutritional excess (eg, direct toxic effect, digestive upset), nutritional deficiency (either a primary or secondary deficiency), and nutritional imbalance. In animal agriculture, health and production are heavily influenced by feeding management. Feed preparation and delivery are often as important to animal health and productivity as the actual nutritional value of the ration itself. Inadequacies in nutritional delivery can cause disease (eg, ruminal acidosis, laminitis Laminitis in Horses The horse hoof. Median section through the horse digit. Equine laminitis is a crippling disease in which there is a failure of attachment of the epidermal laminae connected to the hoof wall... read more Laminitis in Horses ) or increase susceptibility to disease (eg, Clostridium perfringens Clostridium difficile and C perfringens Infections in Animals Clostridium difficile is a large, gram-positive, anaerobic, spore-forming motile rod and is the major cause of antimicrobial-associated colitis in humans. C difficile–associated... read more type D enterotoxemia). In many production animal sectors, automated management tools have made it easier to ensure consistent nutrition and feed availability; however, the ability to monitor the performance of automated systems will require new tools.

Nutritionally related diseases in companion animals include both diseases of excess (eg, developmental orthopedic disease in dogs related to excess calcium and energy) and diseases of deficiency (eg, blindness in cats related to taurine deficiency). Feeds and feeding management can also influence animal health if feeding results in exposure to foodborne hazards, such as physical objects (eg, sharp items), chemicals (eg, mycotoxins Overview of Mycotoxicoses in Animals For discussion of mycotoxicoses in poultry, see Mycotoxicoses in Poultry. Acute or chronic toxicoses in animals can result from exposure to feed or bedding contaminated with toxins produced... read more , toxic plants Poisonous Plants ), allergens (eg, dust mites Mite Infestations in Animals Tightly adhered keratinous crusts along the ear margin in a case of sarcoptic mange. Sarcoptes scabiei is a common mange mite in pigs and dogs, and Notoedres cati (figure)is common... read more Mite Infestations in Animals , mold spores), or microbes (eg, molds, Salmonella spp). Nutritional and waste management practices are also important in preventing and controlling infectious diseases that are transmitted by fecal-oral transmission (eg, salmonellosis Salmonellosis in Animals Salmonellosis is infection with Salmonella spp bacteria. It affects most animal species as well as humans and is a major public health concern. The clinical presentation can range from... read more Salmonellosis in Animals , paratuberculosis Paratuberculosis in Ruminants Paratuberculosis, caused by Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis , is a chronic, contagious granulomatous enteritis characterized in cattle and other ruminants by progressive weight loss... read more Paratuberculosis in Ruminants in ruminants, and toxoplasmosis Toxoplasmosis in Animals Toxoplasmosis is an important zoonotic protozoal infection worldwide. All homoeothermic animal species may be infected. Infection is generally asymptomatic and chronic in immunocompetent individuals... read more in cats).

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