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Vet Clin Pathol. 2009 Mar;38(1):103-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-165X.2008.00094.x. Epub 2008 Nov 12.

Cerebrospinal fluid findings in cattle with central nervous system disorders: a retrospective study of 102 cases (1990-2008).

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  • 1Department of Population Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14850, USA.



Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis is routinely used to aid in the diagnosis of central nervous system (CNS) disease in animals. There is little comprehensive information available on the diagnostic utility of CSF analysis in cattle.


The purpose of this retrospective study was to review the characteristic CSF findings of specific CNS diseases in cattle.


Medical records of cattle in which CSF analysis had been performed between 1990 and 2008 were reviewed. Cattle were included in the study if they had a confirmed diagnosis of CNS disease (based on clinical signs, laboratory testing, and/or histopathologic results). Cattle were categorized as having infectious or noninfectious causes of CNS disease and subgrouped based on specific disease diagnosis. CSF results were summarized and compared using nonparametric statistical tests.


Data from 102 cattle, mostly female Holsteins, were included in the study. Bacterial infections, particularly listeriosis and neonatal meningitis, were the most common cause of CNS disease. Neonatal meningitis was characterized by a marked, predominantly neutrophilic, pleocytosis. Mild mononuclear pleocytosis was typical of listeriosis, but was also seen with abscesses, viral infections, salt poisoning, and trauma. Variable CSF results were seen in cattle with otitis-related meningitis and thromboembolic meningoencephalitis. CSF results were usually normal with toxic, metabolic, degenerative, and neoplastic disorders.


CSF analysis is a useful adjunctive test for the diagnosis of CNS diseases in cattle. When interpreted together with signalment and clinical signs, CSF results can assist clinicians in the antemortem diagnosis of specific bovine CNS disorders.

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