Proper management and nutrition are essential to the health and well-being of all domestic animals. Management and nutrition are particularly important in agriculture because animals must maintain a high level of production while relying on their managers to meet their physiologic and behavioral needs. As genetic advancement leads to increased productivity and production systems become more intensified, there is increased pressure on animal husbandry to ensure that management and nutrition do not limit animal wellbeing, health, or production.
Proper management and nutrition are central to the prevention and control of many infectious and noninfectious diseases. Infectious diseases require successful colonization by a specific infectious organism(s) (eg, a bacterium, virus, parasite); the mere presence of the microbe is not usually sufficient for disease to develop. Environmental and host factors influence whether an animal will develop clinical disease or has impaired productivity as a result of becoming infected.
The most effective method of preventing infectious disease is to eradicate and exclude the organism(s) causing the disease. This is impossible or impractical for many common diseases. As a result, it becomes necessary to control rather than eliminate the infectious disease by reducing circumstances that favor spread of the infectious agent, by mitigating environmental circumstances that contribute to development of disease once animals become infected, and by minimizing circumstances that increase the host's susceptibility. Circumstances that contribute to the development of a disease are called the risk factors for the disease. These risk factors can be related to the microbe, the environment, or the host. Identifying and mitigating the impact of these risk factors is the goal of a management strategy to prevent specific diseases and to maintain productivity.
A multifaceted approach using management practices to control and prevent disease is particularly important in dealing with many of the common infectious and noninfectious diseases that are seen in food animal production systems (eg, pneumonia in calves and piglets, GI disease in neonates, bovine respiratory disease complex of feedlot cattle, infectious causes of infertility, metabolic disease in dairy cows) as well as in companion animals (eg, respiratory disease in catteries, kennel cough in canine boarding facilities, viral respiratory disease in horses). These diseases often have either a complex etiology involving the interaction of several microbes or are caused by pathogens for which there are no reliable treatments (eg, viruses, some parasites) or no specific preventive measures (eg, cryptosporidiosis in calves). Prevention and control of these diseases depends on implementing management practices to mitigate recognized risk factors for infection, disease development, and impaired productivity. Often these are general management practices not targeted at a specific infectious agent. Effective control of many diseases requires the implementation of management practices to address specific risk factors for particular pathogens.
The need to identify and implement multifaceted management strategies that will maintain health and enhance productivity is likely to increase in animal agriculture. Such strategies will be driven by forces both from within and, increasingly, from outside the industry. Identifying and implementing these management changes will require collaborative efforts of all groups working in livestock production, including veterinarians, animal scientists, and nutritionists, with consideration for the economic forces acting on producers.
All agriculture, and particularly animal agriculture, is under pressure from consumers and public interest groups to address concerns arising from current industry practices. These concerns include potential links between antimicrobial resistance in human pathogens and drug use in animals; relationships between intensive animal production, disposal of animal waste, and the risks of environmental contamination; the role of management practices in foodborne illnesses and maintenance of zoonotic pathogens; and the impact of current management practices on animal welfare. Even if there is no conclusive evidence linking livestock production to these public health issues, livestock production practices will likely change in response to the perception of such links. Any changes in current management practices will require new approaches to maintaining animal health and production. Identifying and making these changes will require a substantial investment in research.
Animal agriculture is also under pressure from within the industry to change many existing management practices. Recent well-publicized outbreaks of disease such as bluetongue, avian influenza, equine influenza, and transmissible spongiform encephalopathies in several species (eg, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, scrapie, chronic wasting disease) have focused the industry's attention on biosecurity as a disease prevention and control strategy. A biosecurity program is a series of management practices with the objectives of preventing the introduction of infectious or other disease-causing agents and preventing the further spread of agents that are introduced or are already present (also see Biosecurity). Biosecurity programs can be implemented at the farm, regional, or national level. These programs are often composed of a set of general biosecurity practices and sets of management practices targeted at specific pathogens.
Increasingly, livestock production must consider on-farm food safety initiatives as part of the system to ensure the safety and wholesomeness of the food supply. On-farm food safety programs are often HACCP-based (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) and are developed and implemented by the commodity group involved. They emphasize the central role of management in ensuring the quality and safety of food produced on farms. Developing, implementing, and auditing these management programs is seen as essential to maintaining consumer confidence. These programs require the implementation and documentation of management practices that reduce the risk of physical, chemical, or microbial hazards entering the human food supply through production on farms.
Proper nutritional management is essential to animal health and productivity. Nutrition plays a role in influencing the animal's susceptibility to disease (eg, feline lower urinary tract disease) as well as in managing certain diseases (eg, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, ketosis in dairy cattle). Rations/diets must be formulated to provide for the basic physiologic needs (eg, energy, protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals) of the animal and to ensure optimal growth and productivity. Ration formulation must consider age, sex, breed, lactation and gestational status, and physical activity.
Nutritionally related diseases include diseases associated with a nutritional excess (eg, direct toxic effect, digestive upset), nutritional deficiency (either a primary or secondary deficiency), or nutritional imbalance. In animal agriculture, health and production are also heavily influenced by feeding management. Feed preparation and delivery are often as important in ensuring animal health and productivity as the actual nutritional value of the ration itself. Inadequacies in nutritional delivery can directly cause disease (eg, ruminal acidosis, laminitis) or increase susceptibility to disease (eg, type D Clostridium perfringens enterotoxemia).
Nutritionally related diseases in companion animals include both diseases of excess (eg, developmental orthopedic disease in dogs related to excess calcium and energy) and diseases of deficiency (eg, blindness in cats related to taurine deficiency). Feeds and feeding management can also influence animal health if feeding results in exposure to foodborne physical hazards (eg, sharp objects), chemicals (eg, mycotoxins, toxic plants), allergens (eg, dust mites, mold spores), or microbes (eg, molds, Salmonella spp). Nutritional and waste management practices are also important in preventing and controlling infectious diseases that are spread through fecal-oral transmission (eg, salmonellosis, paratuberculosis in ruminants, toxoplasmosis in cats).
Last full review/revision July 2011 by Robert Tremblay, DVM, DVSc, DACVIM