Risk factors for, and genetic association with, intestinal atresia in dairy calves

Anim Genet. 2023 Apr;54(2):104-112. doi: 10.1111/age.13291. Epub 2023 Jan 13.


Intestinal atresia is an under-diagnosed congenital defect in cattle. It results in complete occlusion of the intestinal lumen and, unless surgically corrected, results in death or euthanasia of the affected calf. There is limited information on the incidence of this condition or on risk factors, including predisposing alleles, associated with the defect. In this study, active surveillance of 39 dairy farms over 8 years identified 197 cases of intestinal atresia among 56 454 calves born, an incidence of 0.35%. The majority of cases (83%) had occlusion of the jejunum, although cases with blockage of the colon (14%) or anus (4%) were also identified. The defect was twice as common in male as in female calves (p < 0.0001), and was more common in progeny of older cows than in progeny of first or second lactation cows (p < 0.001). Year and farm of birth were also significantly associated with incidence (p < 0.05). The incidence of intestinal atresia was highest among the progeny of three related Jersey sires, suggesting that a gene for intestinal atresia was segregating within this family. Linkage analysis utilising 28 affected progeny of two half-sib putative carrier sires identified two putative quantitative trait loci associated with the defect, on chromosomes 14 and 26, although no clear candidate genes were identified. There was no evidence of a sire-effect among the progeny of Holstein-Friesian sires. However, a case-control genome-wide association study involving 91 cases and 375 healthy controls, identified 31 SNP in 18 loci as associated with the defect in this breed. These data suggest that intestinal atresia in dairy calves is not a simple Mendelian trait as previously reported but a complex multigenic disorder.

Keywords: congenital defect; dairy calves; intestinal atresia; risk factors; sire.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle / genetics
  • Female
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Intestinal Atresia* / genetics
  • Intestinal Atresia* / veterinary
  • Lactation
  • Male
  • Parturition
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk Factors

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