bovines in the process of being screened for tuberculosis

Bovine Tuberculosis in Wildlife: Causes, Effects, and Management Strategies

Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is a highly infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis that affects cattle and a wide range of wildlife species. While bTB in cattle is well-known, its impact on wildlife is often overlooked. This article aims to provide an overview of the causes, significance, species affected, distribution, transmission, clinical signs, diagnosis, treatment, management, and conclusion of bovine tuberculosis in wildlife.


Bovine tuberculosis is caused by Mycobacterium bovis, which is a slow-growing bacterium that primarily infects the respiratory system of animals. It can also infect other organs such as the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, and spleen. The bacterium is highly resistant to environmental degradation and can survive in soil, water, and even on inanimate objects.


Bovine tuberculosis is a significant threat to the health and survival of both domestic and wild animals. The disease can cause severe economic losses to the livestock industry, as well as impact the conservation of wildlife populations. The zoonotic potential of bTB is also a significant concern, as humans can become infected through direct contact with infected animals or consumption of contaminated animal products.

Species Affected

Bovine tuberculosis can infect a wide range of wildlife species, including badgers, deer, possums, and wild boar. In areas where the disease is prevalent, infected wildlife populations can act as a reservoir of infection for domestic livestock.


Bovine tuberculosis has a worldwide distribution, with some regions having higher prevalence rates than others. The disease is endemic in many parts of the world, including Europe, Africa, North America, and Asia.


The primary mode of transmission of bovine tuberculosis is through the inhalation of infectious droplets exhaled by infected animals. The disease can also be transmitted through the consumption of contaminated feed, water, or milk. Direct contact with contaminated surfaces, such as soil or feed troughs, can also result in transmission.

Clinical Signs

Bovine tuberculosis can present with a wide range of clinical signs, which can vary depending on the stage of infection and the host species. In many cases, infected animals may not show any clinical signs of the disease, making it difficult to detect and control. However, when clinical signs do occur, they can include:

  1. Progressive weight loss and emaciation, despite adequate feed intake
  2. Chronic coughing, sometimes with blood-tinged sputum
  3. Labored breathing or shortness of breath
  4. Generalized weakness and lethargy
  5. Reduced milk production in dairy cattle
  6. Swollen lymph nodes, particularly in the head and neck region
  7. Skin lesions or abscesses in some cases
  8. In advanced stages, animals may show neurological signs such as circling, head pressing, and tremors.

It is important to note that the clinical signs of bovine tuberculosis can be very similar to those of other respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia, making it difficult to diagnose based on clinical signs alone. A thorough diagnostic workup is necessary to confirm the presence of the disease.


Diagnosing bovine tuberculosis in wildlife can be challenging, as infected animals may not show clinical signs until the disease has progressed. Testing methods such as the tuberculin skin test and blood-based tests can be used to detect the presence of the disease. However, these methods are not always reliable in wildlife populations due to factors such as stress and interference from other infections.


There is currently no effective treatment for bovine tuberculosis in wildlife. Infected animals may be culled to prevent the spread of the disease to other animals.


Management strategies for bovine tuberculosis in wildlife depend on the particular circumstances of each situation, such as the affected species, location, and extent of the infection. Control measures may include culling infected animals, vaccination, and/or movement restrictions.

Culling of infected animals is often used to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis in wildlife populations, especially in areas where the disease is endemic. However, this approach can be controversial and is often met with resistance from stakeholders, such as hunters and wildlife enthusiasts.

Vaccination of wildlife against bovine tuberculosis has shown promise in some studies, although the feasibility of implementing a widespread vaccination program is limited by logistical and financial constraints. Furthermore, there are currently no vaccines approved for use in wild animals.

Movement restrictions may be imposed in certain areas to prevent the spread of the disease. This can involve limiting the movement of animals between different parts of the country or between different properties. In addition, farmers may be required to implement biosecurity measures, such as regular testing and isolation of new animals, to prevent the introduction of bovine tuberculosis into their herds.

In some cases, wildlife management may involve a combination of these measures, along with surveillance and monitoring programs to track the spread of the disease. Effective management of bovine tuberculosis in wildlife requires a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach, involving wildlife managers, veterinarians, farmers, and other stakeholders.

Overall, managing bovine tuberculosis in wildlife populations is a complex and challenging task, and ongoing research is needed to develop effective strategies for controlling and preventing the spread of this disease.


Bovine tuberculosis is a significant disease affecting both domestic and wild animals. Its impact on wildlife populations can have severe ecological and economic consequences. Management strategies that focus on reducing the spread of the disease between wildlife and domestic animals are essential to prevent the further spread of the disease and mitigate its impact on wildlife and livestock populations.

You can access additional fact sheets related to wildlife (and domestic) diseases here.


  1. Corner, L. A. L., & Costello, E. (2006). Control of tuberculosis in cattle and badgers. Veterinary Journal, 171