Eye cancer in cattle
Note Number: AG0073
Gerry Watt, Ballarat
Updated: January 2006
WARNING: Some photos contained in this Agriculture Note could offend some readers. However, this graphical representation is necessary to allow for the correct identification of eye cancers in cattle.
Eye cancer is well recognised in some cattle herds. It is a tumour of the eyeball or eyelid and is most common in Hereford and Poll Hereford cattle. It rarely occurs in other breeds. Where it does occur, prompt action needs to be taken.
The tumor begins as a tiny growth, or precursor lesion, and up to half of these may develop into cancer. The precursor lesion can be:
- A plaque – a slightly flat opaque area
- A papilloma- a wart like growth on the eye ball
- A keratoma – a horny growth on the eye lid
- A small ulcer on the eye lid.
As the disease progresses from the precursor stage to the cancer stage, the eye becomes ulcerated. Bacteria and flies invade the area, which can develop into a festering, foul smelling growth.
The cancerous tissue also grows inwards, invading the deeper tissues around and behind the eye. It can progress to the lymph nodes of the head and then to body organs such as the lungs and liver.
Eye cancer can be controlled by selective breeding. Strong selection for pigmented eyelids can result in rapid improvement and is recommended for all Hereford herds. Lower lid pigmentation is more important than pigmentation on the upper lid. The intensity of pigmentation is not important as long as it is darker than just a creamy colour.
Some early cases of cancer or precursor lesions can be treated by veterinary intervention either surgically or by cryosurgery (freezing). As eye cancer may recur in treated animals, it is not advisable to keep these animals beyond their current lactation.
It is illegal to put cattle with malignant tumours of the eye, larger than 2cm, in Victorian saleyards. It is also illegal to bring these cattle into Victoria without a licence.
The recommended method of disposal of cattle with small eye cancers is direct to an abattoir.
However, cattle with early stage eye cancers up to the size of a 5 cent coin (2 cm) that are not bleeding or discharging , as shown in Figure 1 below, may be put in saleyard and sold for slaughter.
Cattle with eye cancers between the size of a 5 cent coin (2cm) and a 20 cent coin (3cm), that are not bleeding or discharging, (Figure 2) may go direct to an abattoir at owner's risk of non payment.
Eye cancers larger than 3cm, or involving the whole of the eye, or with significant swelling around the eye and/or flyblown, and/or weeping, must be treated or destroyed humanely on farm. These larger cancers (Figure 3) must not go in or near a saleyard or abattoir as they may attract charges of animal cruelty
Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, owners may face cruelty charges if they allow eye cancers to grow too large. In all cases, early detection and treatment or disposal is necessary. As cancer is also a notifiable disease, owners should seek veterinary advice when in doubt.
The previous version of this note was published in December 2003.
The advice provided in this publication is intended as a source of information only. Always read the label before using any of the products mentioned. The State of Victoria and its employees do not guarantee that the publication is without flaw of any kind or is wholly appropriate for your particular purposes and therefore disclaims all liability for any error, loss or other consequence which may arise from you relying on any information in this publication.