Calf Diabetes

The Diabetic Calf Problem

Over recent years a rare Diabetic problem has occurred in a small number of newly born Irish Moiled calves. The Irish Moiled Cattle Society has been working closely with the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in London to help identify the so-called ‘Rouge gene’ that is responsible for the problem. Once this gene can be identified then a genetic test can be developed to identify ‘carriers of this gene’ in the breed population so that eventual elimination of the problem can be achieved. However, it is the responsibility of all breeders to send in DNA (Hair) samples of calves that have had this condition and died consequently, so that research can be carried out by the RVC.

Clinical Signs of a Diabetic Calf (Classic Case);

Calf born alive and appears to be healthy.
Days 1-2; Calf may appear slightly hyperactive with more playing/skipping than normal. May be seen drinking water from troughs or puddles and also can be noticed to be urinating more frequent than normal.
Days 2-4; Calf takes a ‘Downward’ turn. Calf becomes dull and lethargic
Days 4-6; Calf becomes dehydrated and very weak, unable to stand. Death is imminent.

A ‘classic case’ of Diabetes in a 2-4 day old calf is clinically very similar to a calf with septicaemia (common in calves not having received enough colostrum) however in contrast to septicaemic calves, diabetic calves do not respond to antibiotics and fluids given via an intravenous drip. Also when the blood glucose level of such calves are tested levels exceed 30 mmol/l. (Normal = 8 mmol/l)

It is important to note that the above describes the classic diabetic case, however, some calves that are born dead (still births) may have the diabetic condition and in 1 case it was reported that a diabetic calf survived until it was 2 weeks old.

Try and Confirm diabetes.
DNA research and Gene identification is a very difficult process and so the more information breeders can gather and forward with their samples the better. It will make the on-going research at the RVC more efficient, therefore, the Irish Moiled Cattle Society would stress to breeders that as well as reporting cases and sending in a Hair sample to also try to confirm Diabetes in calves that they are suspicious of.

In the ‘classic case’ scenario the best way to confirm diabetes is to detect the level of glucose in a blood sample taken by a vet. A glucose level can be detected instantly on the farm if the vet has access to a glucometer. If a glucometer is not accessible then the blood sample should be stored in a ‘fluoride-oxalate’tube and the glucose level detected in a lab or ‘in-practice’ biochemistry machine.

A DIY method to confirm Diabetes is to collect a urine sample from the calf and detect the glucose level by using a Glucose Urine Stick which can be obtained from your vet. Your vet will instruct you on how the Glucose Urine Stick works or alternatively take the urine sample to your vet to have the glucose reading taken.

In the case of a calf born dead (still birth) without any known reason the best way to try and confirm diabetes is to send the calf for 
post-mortem examination.The glucose level in the aqueous humour (eye fluid) remains relatively stable in a dead calf for up to 24 hours, so an accurate glucose level estimation can be detected within this time. Alternatively your vet can collect a vitreous humour sample (fluid drawn from the eye) from the dead calf (in first 24 hours) and store in a fluoride-oxalate tube and then detect the glucose level using a biochemistry machine.

Report and send DNA samples
It is vitally important that all breeders if suspicious that they have a calf with the diabetic condition that they report it to the Irish Moiled Cattle Society and send a DNA (Hair) sample for research. It should be noted that if a calf is born dead without any obvious reason then a DNA sample of the dead calf should also be sent to the Society for research.

Further information and Contact Details

DNA (Hair) samples from confirmed cases are crucial to making progress to the on-going research. DNA (hair) samples should be taken the same way as for the registration process i.e. the hair should be plucked and not cut. Take care to pluck a large sample of hair. Samples should be sent to Society Director, Chris Ball (details below).

If you have any other concerns, or would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact Chris Ball 07976 767629, e-mail    or post DNA samples to Manor House Farm Prestwood Denstone Uttoxeter Staffs ST14 5DD Alternatively any other Society Director can be contacted or the Breed Secretary.

It has to be said that this is not a widespread problem in the breed, however we must all work together to help eliminate the problem so please for the future of the Irish Moiled Breed act immediately if you have a suspect case.