This section is from the book "The Farmers Ready Reference Or Hand Book Of Diseases Of Horses And Cattle", by S. C. Orr. . Also available from Amazon: The Farmer's Ready Reference;.
The so-called "mad itch" in cattle has long been a mystery to cattlemen, as it seemingly attacked cattle in all conditions, fat cattle in the feed yards frequently falling victims. Many causes have been assigned for the disease. Frozen pasturage, poisonous vegetation, corn cobs and husks which hogs had chewed and covered with saliva, and then dropped upon the ground, were supposed to be eaten by the cattle and cause the peculiar symptoms. But all these theories faded one after another as experimental tests only brought contradictory results. The disease has been described under different names, some even calling it hydrophobia. The name Specific Cerebro Meningitis was suggested by Dr. Paul Paquin; and by reading a report of some investigations made by Dr. Paquin regarding the disease, I find that my own views deduced from observation through several years of practice are not far different from his. The name, "mad itch," suggested by some of the symptoms seems to be the most known among stockmen.
It is well known that in many pastures cattle get their water supply from ponds; or if there is a stream of water running through the field it goes dry except a few deep holes. Now as the dry, hot weather comes on the water in these ponds or holes grows less in quantity and more filthy from the manure and from the tramping of the cattle until, finally, there is only a filthy, mucky mass left and the cattle go elsewhere for water.
After a few weeks the rains begin to fall; the old watering places are filled with fresh, clear water, and the cattle are turned into the old pasture again and in a few days begin to die.
There is some mystery the owner cannot comprehend. He does not look to the water for the cause, for he knows that it looks better than when the cattle were in the field before. He does not know that during this undisturbed period the old pond was a regular hot-bed for the development of fungi and micro-organic ferments; that in that clear, fresh water, so inviting to thirsty throats on a hot summer's day, lies the death dealing germ that is causing such terrible havoc among his cattle. There have been outbreaks of this disease where no pool of stagnant water existed; but examination proved the soil to be of that moist, mucky character favorable to the development of disease germs, and, as it dried out, it was left full of deep indentations from the hoofs of the cattle. When the rain fell, these indentations were tilled with water, and the cattle drank from them, thus taking in the germ as from the water in the pond.
Sharp frosts and cold weather tend to check the ravages of the disease; but it starts again with warm weather, and, if the cattle are not removed, continues until the summer heat dries up the water. There is no cure for the disease when an animal once takes it. The only hope lies in preventing it.
Symtoms. - There will be a dull, and sometimes anxious, look about the eyes; loss of appetite; suspension of rumination; dribbling of frothy saliva from the mouth; shivering of the muscles; sudden jerking of the feet; lying down and immediately getting up; walking with an unsteady gait; shaking of the head, with frequent attempts to scratch the shoulders and sides with the horns; rubbing the head and neck against other objects; sometimes holding the head near the ground, and at other times holding it high in air. As time goes on the symptoms become more aggravated; the eyes assume a wild, staring, frenzied appearance; the animal will sometimes give a sudden start, snort, bellow, and run as if attacking some imaginary foe; it will often attack anything that may come in its way, man or beast, in a most threatening and aggressive manner. Thus the animal goes on for several days, when it generally sinks to the ground, either from exhaustion or paralysis, and often becomes comatose before it dies. These symptoms will not all be exhibited in every case; some cases will be mild and, to some extent, controllable; while others will be so frenzied and vicious as to lead the attendant and, sometimes, even inexperienced veterinarians to pronounce it hydrophobia.
Preventative - When possible, water only from deep wells or running streams. If ponds must be used, clean them often, and, if the disease breaks out, move to higher ground, and change feed and water.