Differential Diagnosis for Mycotoxicoses in Ruminants

Mycotoxins are rarely the first factor considered when evaluating potential reasons for poor breed-back, lameness, poor milk production, weak calves, rough hair coats, or overall poor performance and health in dairy and beef cattle. According to reported US mycotoxin surveys, there has been a variety of mycotoxins detected in corn, corn by-product feeds, roughages, pasture grasses, among many others, in all regions of the US in recent years. Therefore, the consideration of mycotoxins as contributing factors in cases of poor health and performance of dairy and beef animals is justified.

Mycotoxins are secondary fungal metabolites found in cereal grains, by-products, harvested forages, silages, and pasture grasses and pose a significant threat to animal health and productivity. Crops that have experienced environmental challenges, such as heat and drought stress, excessive moisture, or physical damage (e.g., hail, insects, wildlife) during certain phases of growth, present with the greatest risk of colonization by molds that may develop toxins.

Some major mycotoxin-producing fungi that have been identified in cereal grains and forages is Fusarium species. Fusarium molds are known for producing several different mycotoxins including zearalenone (ZEN), fumonisins (FUM), type A trichothecenes (such as T-2 toxin and HT-2 toxin) and type B trichothecenes which include, deoxynivalenol (DON a.k.a. “vomitoxin”), nivalenol (NIV) and fusarenon X (FusX). Fusarium molds are believed to be produced after stress conditions followed by wet weather during flowering. Each Fusarium mycotoxin presents its own negative effects on dairy and beef performance and health and, unfortunately, these toxins have been identified in a broad-range of feed ingredients fed to these animals.

Although cattle consuming the various Fusarium mycotoxins may display different outward clinical signs, type A & B trichothecenes are known to reduce gut integrity by inhibiting protein and nucleic acid synthesis, resulting in reduced nutrient absorption and altered immune function. Similar to DON, FUM contribute to the disruption of the intestinal barrier and act synergistically in the presence of DON and other mycotoxins, imposing greater negative effects when found in combination than when occurring alone.  Zearalenone is frequently found in the presence of DON and other type B trichothecenes and primarily has an estrogenic effect on animals, which can significantly impair heat cycles, embryo survival and cause abortions in cows as well as poor testicular development, sperm production, and semen quality in bulls. 

The effects of a high concentration of mycotoxins are very wide and diverse and often can be hard to differentiate between problems caused by management, nutrition, and issues related to disease. dsm-firmenich has most recently hosted a webinar, “What’s Wrong with my Cows?” to present a new tool available for troubleshooting mycotoxicosis in beef and dairy operations. In the webinar, Ignacio Artavia (dsm-firmenich product manager Mycotoxin Risk Management) discusses recent research about the impact of mycotoxins on ruminants with Professor Antonio Gallo from Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore.

To view the recorded webinar click on the video below:


The new tool available is a collection of material to educate and create awareness of mycotoxins in dairy and beef operations and titled, “Differential Diagnosis for Mycotoxins in Ruminants.” This booklet highlights seven of the most relevant problem areas including reproductive failure, ketosis and fatty liver (subclinical), lameness, subacute ruminal acidosis, inflammation and immune suppression, mammary gland infections and high somatic cell counts, and reduced growth performance. Each topic provides information on how to identify the problem and evaluate if the problem is associated with management, nutrition or disease. It also provides a checklist of monitoring strategies and corrective actions to mitigate the issues. 

For more information or if you would like to request a copy of the “Differential Diagnosis for Mycotoxins in Ruminants” booklet, please contact your dsm-firmenich representative.   

Published on

18 July 2022



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