In the guide

Bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) occurs worldwide and can affect cattle of all ages.

BVD can have very varied symptoms - including death - and can have substantial impact on the profitability of farms. Following pressure from the agricultural industry the Scottish Government agreed to introduce a staged programme of increasing control measures to attempt to eradicate the disease in Scotland.

Clinical signs

Clinical signs can vary greatly, such as a bout of diarrhoea or pneumonia (often in a group of animals), or an increase in abortions / stillbirths and a decrease in fertility.

Calves contracting the disease while still in the womb can be born as 'persistently infected' animals (PIs); such animals continue to excrete the virus throughout their lives and are therefore the greatest risk of spread of infection. These animals, as well as failing to thrive, also tend to have impaired immunity making them more susceptible to other diseases. They are likely to die before reaching maturity.

BVD is spread via contact with infected cattle, particularly PIs, and so through a BVD testing regime, movement restrictions and good biosecurity controls eradication of the disease is possible.

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BVD testing requirements

Scotland is now in the final stage of a four-stage eradication scheme and restrictions on breeding cattle herds have strengthened.

Every year keepers of a breeding herd of cattle or a breeding bovine animal must take, or arrange to be taken, a sample from a set number of animals (varies according to farm set-up). The samples should not be from animals that have previously been tested and found to be negative or dams of such animals (such dams are assumed to be negative).

A breeding herd is defined in the Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (Scotland) Order 2013 as "a group of two or more bovine animals in which breeding, whether by natural, assisted or artificial means, is intended by its keeper to take place and no steps are taken to prevent or minimise the chances of such breeding".

The sample (which can be either blood or a part of the ear taken using a special ear tag) must be submitted to an approved laboratory for testing. Only a vet can take and submit a blood sample but farmers can take and submit a sample using an appropriate ear tag. Within 40 days the laboratory must notify the Scottish Ministers and the keeper of the results, clearly stating whether the result is 'negative' or 'not negative' for exposure to BVD virus or confirms the presence of the BVD virus.

A result of  'not negative' does not necessarily mean that there is BVD in the herd; it simply means that an animal / animals have at some point been exposed to the disease. Further advice should be sought from your vet.

Where a calf is born to an animal that was not intended to be bred from (that is, not a breeding bovine or in a breeding herd) a sample must be taken within 40 days of birth and submitted for testing.

Further guidance on the testing regime can be found on the Scottish Government website.

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Herd status

The herd status has to be updated each year and is dependent on the most recent test results. The herd status can be 'negative' or 'not negative' (this includes herds that are  termed 'positive' due to having an animal that is a PI).

Animals from herds that are classified as 'not negative' are not permitted to move from the holding they are on, except in one or more of the following circumstances:

  • they are individually tested and found to be negative
  • the movement is under a licence issued by a veterinary inspector or the Scottish Ministers
  • they move direct (not via a market) to a slaughterhouse

A breeding herd that has not been tested is classified as 'not negative' and the movement restrictions above apply. Similarly if a breeding herd / animal is kept on the same holding as a breeding herd / bovine that has not been tested it is also classified as 'not negative'.

Where a keeper is notified that their herd is 'not negative' and another herd is kept on the same holding,  they must notify the other keeper(s) of the test result and of any subsequent change in status within seven days.

Where an animal is confirmed as having BVD it must not be moved off the holding other than direct to a slaughterhouse.

Where a breeding animal is to be moved off a holding, other than for slaughter, the keeper must notify the new keeper (even if only a temporary keeper) or market operator of the BVD status of the animal / herd.

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Minimising risk

Where an animal has tested positive for BVD your vet should be consulted as to what action should be taken to minimise the risk to other animals.

Other means of reducing risk include:

  • check the BVD status of any animals you bring on to your holding. This can be done on the ScotEID website (email, tel: 0300 244 9823)
  • avoid buying in pregnant animals, as calves that contract BVD in the womb can become PIs for BVD. Also avoid taking pregnant animals to shows
  • avoid nose-to-nose contact with cattle from neighbouring holdings
  • vaccination may be an option but this should be discussed with your vet
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Can people catch the disease?

BVD is not known to affect humans but good hygiene procedures should always be followed after contact with livestock.

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Could it affect the food I eat?

No, it does not affect food we eat and it can't be contracted by consuming beef products.

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Further information

More detailed guidance for farmers is available on the Scottish Government website.

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Failure to comply with trading standards law can lead to enforcement action and to sanctions, which may include a fine and/or imprisonment. For more information please see 'Trading standards: powers, enforcement & penalties'.

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Key legislation

Animal Health Act 1981

Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (Scotland) Order 2013


Last reviewed / updated: December 2018

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.


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