Bacillary Haemoglobinuria

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Also known as: Red Water

Caused by: Clostridium haemolyticum (also known as Clostridium novyi type D)


A disease of cattle and sheep caused by Clostridium haemolyticum (also known as Clostridium novyi type D) a bacteria from the class Clostridia. C. haemolyticum is found in soil, poorly drained/wet pastures and is highly fatal to livestock. The bacteria produces a beta toxin which causes hepatic necrosis and intravascular haemolysis. Destruction of red blood cells results in haemoglobinuria.

Often associated with a disease in the liver that causes anaerobic conditions allowing the growth of bacteria and hence toxin production. Endospores are dormant within the liver and germination is triggered by damage to the tissue. The damage to the liver is frequently caused by liver fluke.


Cattle are the most commonly affected animal but sheep can also be infected. Animals in better body condition seem to be more susceptible to disease.


Often clinical signs are enough to make a presumptive diagnosis. Additionally urine can be collected and urinalysis undertaken. This will help to differentiate the presence of haematuria where frank blood is in the urine from haemolysis where haemaglobinuria is present in the urine.

A definitive diagnosis can be made by isolating C.haemolyticum from the liver however it can be difficult to culture. Additionally the organism can be confirmed on fluorescent antibody or immunohistochemical testing of liver tissue.

Clinical Signs

Animals can be found dead often in lateral recumbency, bloat and little signs of struggle with blood in the nostrils, mouth, rectum and vagina.

If animals are seen alive, the most obvious sign is a port wine coloured urine that froths on voiding. Animals are also often depressed, reluctant to move, pyrexic, have pale mucous membranes and are jaundiced and sometimes in respiratory distress.


Post mortem findings include rapid decomposition of the carcass, organs are also decomposed with subcutaneous haemorrhages, oedema and emphysema present. Abdominal and thoracic fluid are blood stained and a large quantity will be in the pericardium. The animal is severely anaemic and may be jaundiced. Red urine in the bladder, and the kidneys will be speckled with haemoglobin. There is usually a single large necrotic focus in the liver that is sometimes partially liquefied in the centre, and an irregular outline with a hyperaemic edge.

Microscopically, fluorescent antibody testing can identify the organism. The presence of Clostridia post mortem must be interpreted with great caution as they are common post mortem invaders.


It is unlikely that cases are recognised early enough for treatment to be effective. Very high doses of penicillin or oxytetracycline can be used and animals often need a blood transfusion if possible.


Vaccination is available and lasts for up to 6 months. Liver fluke control should also be instituted to prevent any damage to the liver. Infected carcasses should be removed from pasture as spores can survive for long periods in the soil and carcasses.


Often fatal.

Literature Search

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Bacillary haemoglobinuria publications


Merck & Co (2008) The Merck Veterinary Manual (Eighth Edition) Merial