Ticks on cattle

Ticks and Cattle

Tick-borne diseases like Heartwater, Redwater, and Gallsickness affect livestock including goats, sheep, and cattle in many parts of the world. The most common of these diseases in Africa, and the ones that affect cattle, are Redwater and Gallsickness, which occur when infected ticks feed on livestock. These diseases can result in serious complications for the animals, some of which are potentially fatal. According to Virbac (2018), 0,23% of host ticks carry Babesia bigemina – a parasite that causes these diseases. Specific ticks transmit different diseases. For instance, the Heartwater variant is spread by bont ticks; Redwater by blue ticks, and Gallsickness by blue ticks and red-legged ticks. Gallsickness can also be transmitted from one animal to another through biting flies and unsterilized instruments and needles used for injections, dehorning, castrations, and vaccinations. Symptoms are noticeable from  7-14 days after infection and may include fever, anaemia, light to dark brown or red urine, weakness, dry nose, diarrhoea, unwillingness to move, miscarriage, poor appetite, and jaundice in advanced cases.

Treating tick-borne diseases is time-sensitive, as any delay in treatment may increase mortality. Thus, farmers are advised to treat quickly at the first sign of any symptoms and to strictly adhere to the directions given for prescribed medications, otherwise the prescribed drug may not work effectively and can even cause more harm to the animals.

Regional complications and treatment

Studies conducted in the Free State showed that tick and tick-borne diseases occur throughout the year but are more prevalent and severe during summer, as reported by 56% of the farmers that were interviewed. Certain conditions, however, may render livestock more prone to such diseases. These conditions include; old age, keeping exotic European breeds, animals born in winter (as they are not yet exposed to parasites when young), animals moved from disease-free areas to diseased areas, and the period after heavy rainfall (as ticks are numerous during this time). Another study conducted in the North West also found that major tick-borne diseases were more prevalent in the north-eastern region of the province due to a high diversity of tick species.

It is argued that the prevention and control of tick-borne diseases can be very complex and vary across different areas (Turton, 1999). Thus, consultation with a veterinary professional will be most helpful in ameliorating the problem. Alternatively preventative measures, such as early exposure of animals (preferably young ones) to parasites, may aid in their resistance and immunity to the diseases. Others suggest dipping or spraying livestock to help reduce the risk of contraction. However, a strategic control measure may be most helpful in reducing tick populations. Ticks can be a nuisance in large populations, but ideally, one will not want to completely eradicate them, because a healthy population of ticks may help with improving immunity and resistance.

Furthermore, it is advised that farmers keep breeds more resistant to tick-borne diseases such as Ngunis and Brahmans. Alternatively, farmers could resort to the use of vaccines available for Heartwater, Redwater (both African and Asiatic), and Gallsickness. However, farmers are cautioned to administer Heartwater vaccines carefully, as they carry the Babesia bigemina parasiteand may cause disease and fatality if animals are not treated in time. Additionally, farmers are advised not to vaccinate pregnant animals, as this may cause miscarriages.


Mbati, P. A. et al., 2002. National Library of Medicine. [Online]
Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14570134/
[Accessed 13 September 2022].

Spickett, A., Heyne, H. & Williams, R., 2011. Survey of the livestock of the North West province, South Africa. The Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research, 78(1), pp. 1-12.

Turton, J., 1999. National Department of Agriculture. [Online]
Available at: https://www.nda.agric.za/docs/Infopaks/ticks.htm
[Accessed 13 September 2022].

Virbac, 2018. Virbac.com. [Online]
Available at: https://za.virbac.com/home/every-health-care/pagecontent/every-advices/redwater-tick-borne-disease-infe.html#:~:text=Redwater%20disease%20is%20a%20devastating,African%20and%20Asiatic%2FEuropean%20redwater.&text=African%20redwater%20is%20transmitted%20from
[Accessed 13 September 2022].

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