Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE) Surveillance

New Zealand is free from the class of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, or TSEs. These diseases include bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle, scrapie in sheep and chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer. As a country with an economy reliant on its large livestock industry, New Zealand must protect its TSE-free status to facilitate trade.

MPI runs a comprehensive TSE detection and surveillance programme to prevent the entry and spread of TSE agents. This programme supports New Zealand’s claim that its animal products are free of BSE, scrapie and CWD, which is important to continue accessing international markets. 

The surveillance programme is targeted at susceptible livestock: cattle, sheep, goats and deer showing signs of neurological disease. The brains of these animals are submitted by veterinarians to laboratories where they are screened for endemic diseases and TSEs. Currently, MPI is investigating the collection and testing of lymphoid tissues from sheep and goats as an alternative method. In addition, contingency plans have been developed for dealing with any suspect cases in livestock, to reduce the time to detection and intervention.  

Important changes to the TSE Surveillance Programme


Surveillance Incentives


Payments are made to both vets and farmers for the submission of tissue for sampling.  


Information on Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

Sciatic Palsy in Dairy Cows


Massey University and the Ministry for Primary Industries continue to seek reports of cases of a condition affecting adult dairy cows.  Since 2011 Massey University and MPI received reports of an emerging neurologic condition affecting adult dairy cows.  Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) have been ruled out in each case and a case definition is as follows:  


Note : Clinical signs are similar to those described by Watson and Penny (Veterinary Record 2003) in which they describe Crushed Tail Head Syndrome.    

Time, place, at-risk population 

  • Lactating adult dairy cows
  • Winter months (June, July, August)*

Clinical Signs  

  • Hind limb weakness  and ataxia
  • Very characteristic shortened gait and excessive flexion of fetlocks and hocks
  • No thoracic limb signs
  • Onset days to weeks?  but progressive to recumbancy
  • Bilateral but differing in severity to the point of recumbancy and plantigrade walking
  • Flaccid tail
  • Defecation and urination unaffected

Tentative Risk Factors  

  • Greater than 60 days in lactation
  • No signs of estrus activities (unlike crushed tail head syndrome) 

*time of year is not restrictive to being considered a ‘case’ 

Cows present with progressive hindlimb weakness, ataxia, shortened gait and a very distinct sinking of the hocks.  Clinical signs are bi-lateral, although may be less marked on one side.  Eventually cows become unable to rise.  Cows remain bright, alert and responsive and appear healthy and have a good appetite.  Known cases have occurred in the main dairying areas of NZ.

A video of a case sent by a Taranaki veterinarian is provided, showing an example of the condition we seek more information on.  Please note the cows were humanely euthanized due to poor prognosis.



A video of a case sent by a Taranaki veterinarian is provided, showing an example of the condition we seek more information on. Please note the cows were humanely euthanized due to poor prognosis.  




Further action

We would like to know if further cases of this syndrome have been seen throughout New Zealand.  It is likely this is a rare condition so it may take time to investigate it fully.  If you have seen cattle with similar presenting signs please contact Naya Brangenberg at We will contact you and if possible will support further investigations of clinical cases.  All information on similar cases will be gratefully received.

We ask that veterinarians take video of suspect cases and fill out the following questionnaire Link to PDF document (46 KB).  Both of these can be emailed once you have spoken to a person about your report case.

Ruminant Feeding Regulations

New Zealand's Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy Status





Page last updated: 28 July 2014