Territory Stories

Botulism Poisoning in Cattle in the Northern Territory



Botulism Poisoning in Cattle in the Northern Territory

Other title



Fitzpatrick, S.

Issued by

Northern Territory. Department of Regional Development, Primary Industry, Fisheries and Resources


Serial No. 651; Agdex No. 420/654; Agnote; E-Journals; PublicationNT; Agnote




This publication contains may contain links to external sites. These external sites may no longer be active.; Made available via the Publications (Legal Deposit) Act 2004 (NT).




Agriculture; Weeds; Biological control; Animals; Farm animals; Periodicals

Publisher name

Northern Territory Government

Place of publication





No: K29, September 2006

File type





Attribution International 4.0 (CC BY 4.0)

Copyright owner

Northern Territory Government



Parent handle


Citation address


Page content

Northern Territory Government Page 2 of 6 When conditions are not ideal, the bacterium can form highly resistant spores that can survive for years in the environment. The bacterium occurs commonly in the soil and is also found in the digestive tract of about 20% of normal cattle and other herbivores. This means that the organism can easily spread with cattle movements and then become established on a property in healthy cattle and soil. The chain of events most commonly required for botulism poisoning to occur in NT cattle are: Conditions are often most favourable for botulism to occur late in the dry season but the disease can occur at any time if conducive factors are prevalent. Bones and carrion of decaying cattle and fly maggots are the best sources of toxin. Poisoning has also been known to occur by consuming water or feed that has been contaminated by animal carcasses and rotting feed (mouldy hay or silage and decomposing grass tussocks). Another form of botulism, toxicoinfectious botulism, occurs when animals consume actively growing bacteria from the gastrointestinal tract of cattle where the toxin is subsequently produced. Where unvaccinated cattle are kept on a protein and phosphorus deficient diet, and where carcass chewing is common, it is likely an outbreak of botulism will occur. SUSCEPTIBILITY The susceptibility of cattle in northern Australia to botulism poisoning is a complex issue that depends on the relative presence of the following six factors: 1. Phosphorous and protein deficiency. Lactating cows and growing cattle have a higher demand for phosphorus and protein. If such animals cannot meet these demands from the feed, they often develop a depraved appetite for carrion and bone chewing. The availability of phosphorus will vary with the soil type and seasonal conditions. Most of the NT is either phosphorous deficient or marginal. Even green pastures in the mid to late season are likely to be phosphorous-deficient. The protein content of native pastures is often insufficient through much of the dry season to maintain live-weight. Most NT stations now supplement their cattle. In a recent 1. Phosphorus or protein deficient soils and feed 4. Botulism type C or D toxin produced by bacteria 5. Botulism poisoning with clinical symptoms Carcass or bone chewing by susceptible non-immune cattle 3. Ingestion of Clostridium botulism bacteria