Bovine spongiform encephalopathy: Diagnostic approach and clinical findings

Ueli Braun, Nicola Pusterla, Ernst Schicker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle is characterized by alterations in behavior and locomotion and by sensitivity to touch, sound, and/or light. Behavior changes manifest as anxiety, nervousness, aggressiveness, increased awareness, and excitability. The most common changes in sensitivity are hyperesthesia to tactile, auditory, and optical stimuli; kicking during milking; and excessive licking of the muzzle. The most important disturbances in locomotion include hindlimb ataxia, falling down, and the inability to get up. The specific examination for BSE thus focuses on assessing behavior and locomotion as well as sensitivity to touch, sound, and light. The history and findings of the general examination must be taken into account. Changes in behavior are most often apparent during such everyday activities as feeding, cleaning, and milking. To assess sensitivity to touch, the head and neck are touched by hand from both sides. The intensity of stimulation is then increased by using the tip of a pen to touch the sides of the neck and head as well as the forehead and muzzle. The reaction to sound can be assessed by observing the patient while clapping the hands, slamming a door, or hitting a metal object with a rubber hammer. Some cattle with BSE react with jerky movements when a light is unexpectedly turned on in dark surroundings. A camera flash directed toward the cow may elicit the same reaction. Locomotion is assessed while the patient is being led and while it is loose. Disturbances in locomotion may manifest as ataxia or a gait that becomes progressively stiffer, possibly accompanied by hypermetria of the forelimbs or hindlimbs. This article considers the clinical findings of a study of 50 cows with BSE.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalCompendium on Continuing Education for the Practicing Veterinarian
Issue number10 SUPPL.
StatePublished - Oct 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • veterinary(all)


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