Neosporosis in Cows (Bovis) | Vetlexicon
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ISSN 2398-2993

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Synonym(s): abortion, stillbirth, dog feces


  • Cause: Neospora caninum.
  • Signs: abortion, stillbirth, weak calves.
  • Diagnosis: definitive diagnosis in cattle is achieved by histopathological examination of the aborted fetus.
  • Treatment: none.
  • Prognosis: low mortality, increased risk of abortion in subsequent pregnancies.

Presenting signs

  • Clinical signs in adult cattle are mainly abortions and these appear most commonly at 5-7months gestation. Abortion can manifest as fetal death, leading to reabsorption or the production of an autolysed, mummified or stillborn calf.
  • Experimental studies have shown that when cattle are infected at 70 days in gestation fetal death occurs approximately 3 weeks later; interestingly, when infected at 210 days in gestation ftal death did not occur.
  • Calves can be born clinically normal and uninfected, but most often they are persistently infected without clinical signs.
  • Calves can also be born with abnormalities such as limb flexion or extension, ataxia, loss of conscious proprioception and occasionally exophthalmos and hydrocephalus.

Geographic incidence

  • Worldwide.

Age predisposition

  • None

Breed/Species predisposition

  • Dairy herds: lower abortion rates have been reported when using beef bull semen for AI Artificial insemination, possibly due to the improved placental function in cross bred pregnancies.

Public health considerations

  • None.

Cost considerations

  • The economic cost of N. caninum Neospora caninum to the cattle industry is significant. This is due to abortion, stillbirth Abortion and stillbirths: overview, neonatal mortality, early fetal death, increased culling, reduced milk production and reduced value of breeding stock.
  • Based on a systematic review, the estimated UK annual national cost is 16 million GBP (range 6 to 20 million GBP). (Correct 2017)



  • The cow is an intermediate host for N. caninum Neospora caninum: the parasite.
  • In the cow, Neospora caninum appears to localize to neuromuscular tissue in its slow growing stage (bradyzoite), but in its initial fast growing stage (tachyzoite) it can pass the placenta and infect the fetus.
  • N. caninum does not always cross the placenta; uninfected calves can therefore be born, but the majority of fetuses in seropositive dams will be infected via the placenta.
    • The majority of these infected fetuses will develop without any clinical signs but are persistently infected.
  • Other intermediate and definitive hosts can become infected by ingesting infected tissue (such as placenta, aborted fetus, and neuromuscular tissue).
  • Clinical signs in these intermediate hosts are uncommon; however, they do provide a source for definitive hosts to become infected.
  • Data from a recent GB study showed that almost all the wild carnivorous mammal species tested were intermediate hosts for N. caninum and are therefore capable of acting as reservoirs of infection for other species. Some of the intermediate hosts include: ferrets, red foxes, polecats, mink, badgers, wild rabbits, house mice, wood mice, water buffalo, sparrows, horses, goats, deer, cats, sheep magpies, common buzzard, crows, domestic chicken, shrews, harvest mice, voles, and pigeons.
  • Horizontal cow to cow transmission has not been described. However, it is speculated cattle can infect themselves in a similar way to other intermediate hosts; by, for example, ingesting infected placenta or fetal fluids.
    • This has not yet been confirmed, and therefore currently the most likely route a cow is infected is via vertical transmission in utero. This means the calf is already infected at birth and therefore preventive measures, such as vaccination to prevent infection, are of limited use.

Predisposing factors


  • The reported chances of a fetus becoming infected and the occurrence of fetal death are variable and appear to be depending on a variety of factors; for example, beef cattle are less likely to abort than dairy cattle and concurrent infection with BVDv Bovine viral diarrhea virus may aggravate disease; these associated risk factors appear to be related to immune system health.


  • Calves will be born healthy or will be weak from birth, having been infected in utero.
  • Cows can abort within a week after being infected, but once they are infected, the time to abortion can be anytime as the animal remains infected for life.
  • Survival times of oocysts on pasture and in silage are unknown but are suggested to be long, as they are expected to be similar to other apicomplexan parasites such as Toxoplasma gondiiToxoplasma gondii.


  • Cattle get infected by ingesting sporulated oocysts or by vertical transmission via the placenta.
  • Although conflicting results are presented in studies, semen and milk appear to be unlikely sources of infection.
  • Oocysts are only found in fecal material from definitive hosts. Thus far only the dingo, coyote and domestic dog have been confirmed to be definitive hosts.
  • Cows that have aborted once due to N. caninum Neospora caninum are more likely to have either subsequent abortions or infected fetuses in future pregnancies.


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Further Reading


Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Bartley P M, Wright S E, Zimmer I A, Roy S, Kitchener A, Meredith C, Innes I & Katzer E A (2013) Detection of Neospora caninum in wild carnivorans in Great Britain. Vet Parasitol 192 (1-3), 279-83.
  • Almería S, López-Gatius F, García-Ispierto I, Nogareda C, Bech-Sàbat G, Serrano B, Santolaria P & Yániz J L (2009) Effects of crossbreed pregnancies on the abortion risk of Neospora caninum-infected dairy cows. Vet Parasitol 26 (4), 323-9 PubMed.
  • Bartels C J, van Schaik G, Veldhuisen J P, van den Borne B H, Wouda W & Dijkstra T (2006) Effect of Neospora caninum-serostatus on culling, reproductive performance and milk production in Dutch dairy herds with and without a history of Neospora caninum-associated abortion epidemics. Prev Vet Med 77 (3-4), 186-98 PubMed.
  • Boyd S P, Barr P A, Brooks H W & Orr J P (2005) Neosporosis in a young dog presenting with dermatitis and neuromuscular signs. J Small Anim Pract 46 (2), 85-8 PubMed.
  • Davison H C, French N P & Trees A J (1999) Herd-specific and age-specific seroprevalence of Neospora caninum in 14 British dairy herds. Vet Rec 144 (20), 547-50 PubMed.
  • Barber J S, Gasser R B, Ellis J, Reichel M P, McMillan D & Trees A J (1997) Prevalence of antibodies to Neospora caninum in different canid populations. J Parasitol 83 (6), 1056-8 PubMed.
  • Buxton D, Caldow G L, Maley S W, Marks J & Innes E A (1997) Neosporosis and bovine abortion in Scotland. Vet Rec 141 (25), 649-51.


  • School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, University of Nottingham, UK.