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Professional Version

Sinusitis in Cattle


John Campbell

, DVM, DVSc, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan

Reviewed/Revised Dec 2022 | Modified Jun 2023

Sinusitis in cattle typically involves the frontal or maxillary sinus. Frontal sinusitis is usually associated with dehorning, and maxillary sinusitis is usually associated with infected upper teeth. Common clinical signs include nasal discharge and an apparent decrease in airflow through nasal passages. Diagnosis is made by percussion of the face and skull radiographs. Treatment is drainage of the affected sinus via trephination and lavage.

Etiology of Sinusitis in Cattle

Numerous bacteria (commonly Trueperella pyogenes, Pseudomonas sp, and Pasteurella multocida) have been isolated from the sinuses of affected cattle with sinusitis. Horn tipping of bucking bulls has been suggested as a risk factor for sinusitis, due to ascending bacterial infection of the frontal sinus as a sequela of this procedure.

Clinical Findings of Sinusitis in Cattle

Frontal sinusitis may occur immediately after dehorning while the wound is still open or months later after the site has healed. The condition is most often unilateral. Clinical signs may include anorexia, fever, unilateral or bilateral nasal discharge, decreased airflow through the nasal passages, and foul breath. Head carriage may be abnormal. In long-standing cases of frontal sinusitis, there may be distortion of the frontal bone, exophthalmos, and neurologic signs.

Diagnosis of Sinusitis in Cattle

  • Clinical evaluation and percussion of the head

  • Skull radiographs

Diagnosis of sinusitis can usually be made on the basis of clinical signs. Percussion may reveal a dull sound over the affected sinus. Radiographs demonstrate increased opacity of the affected sinus and may reveal fluid in the sinus, the presence of dental disease, or bone lysis. Endoscopy is an effective means to examine the bovine paranasal sinuses. Sinocentesis usually yields purulent material.

Treatment of Sinusitis in Cattle

  • Draining sinus via trephination

  • Lavage of sinus

  • Parenteral antimicrobials

  • NSAIDs

Sinusitis is treated by draining the affected sinus. Trephine sites should be selected carefully, using appropriate anatomic landmarks. If an infected tooth is the cause of maxillary sinusitis, the tooth can be repelled via sinusotomy created with a trephine. Once drainage has been established, the sinus can be lavaged daily with antiseptic solutions. Treatment with parenteral antimicrobials is indicated if systemic clinical signs such as fever are present. NSAIDs can be given for analgesia, if needed. The prognosis is guarded.

Control of Sinusitis in Cattle

The best control method for sinusitis in cattle is to dehorn calves at a young age using a closed dehorning technique. If this is not possible, close attention should be paid to disinfection of surgical instruments between animals, dust control, and fly control.

Key Points

  • Dehorn calves at a young age to prevent sinusitis.

  • Radiography may indicate increased opacity of the affected sinus.

  • Draining the affected sinus via trephination is a necessary component of the treatment plan.

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