Veterinary Handbook Disease Finder

Copper Deficiency


Other Names

  • Enzootic Ataxia



Copper deficiency is common in Australian livestock. There are two main causes: low copper levels in soil and plants, and secondary copper deficiency caused by ingestion of excessive levels of molybdenum and sulphur in pasture or feed supplements.

Clinical Signs and Diagnosis

Cattle show loss of pigment in hair especially around the eyes, sudden heart failure, reduced growth, ataxia and falling, diarrhoea and anaemia.

Sheep and goats show ataxia especially in young animals, loss of pigment in dark coloured fleece or coats, steely wool (loss of crimp, hard feel to fleece), diarrhoea, anaemia and abnormal bone formation.

Specimens for laboratory confirmation are mainly liver samples (biopsy or necropsy), submitted chilled and unpreserved for copper estimation. Blood levels of copper are unreliable. Measurement of copper levels in pasture or feed may be indicative.


Copper supplementation can be administered by oral drench, injection, in licks, feed and water, and by administration of fertilizer on to pasture. Good quality feed (lucerne hay) will contain copper. Be careful when supplementing animals with copper to avoid inadvertent overdosing which may result in copper poisoning.


Copper deficiency is unlikely to develop while animals are within the export supply chain. However, it may be a factor when considering sourcing animals from areas that have a low availability of copper in the soil (sandy coastal areas of Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland and some chalky soil areas of South Australia) or high levels of molybdenum and sulphur in pastures (western districts of Victoria and the South Gippsland).

Avoid over-supplementation of livestock with minerals that may lead to reduced copper absorption such as molybdenum, sulphur, iron, zinc and calcium.