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Uterine Prolapse in cattle

Cows experiencing a tough birth will often follow their long ordeal with a prolapse of the uterus. This should be treated as a veterinary emergency.

The prognosis varies – a cow that remains strong and standing or sitting comfortably can usually be treated successfully and go on to raise a healthy calf. Other prolapsed cows may be down, unable to stand, and die from shock and blood loss from tearing of the vessels in the uterus.

Most cows will recover uneventfully if the uterus is replaced within a few hours of giving birth – early veterinary intervention is essential to minimise the cow’s stress, shock, infection and ultimately, her survival.

 

What causes uterine prolapse?

Two conditions/events are primarily implicated in uterine prolapse:

  1. prolonged and difficult calvings, often with the cow down and straining severely
  2. obesity – fat cows experience a higher incidence of prolapse.

 

Image courtesy of Dr Carie Telgen

Treatment

Uterine prolapses must be replaced as quickly as possible. This can be quite challenging if the entire uterus is external to the body. It’s helpful, before veterinary attention starts, for the producer to keep the cow comfortable and the exposed uterus moist and dirt free. This can involve gently washing with cold water and wrapping the prolapse in clean towels if the cow is down. Without care, the uterus quickly dries out and swells (making it even more challenging to replace), tissues become damaged and torn, and infection sets in.

Treatment involves:

  • replacing the prolapse following administration of an epidural
  • closing the external vagina with sutures or vaginal pins to help prevent a recurrence – a veterinarian will place these humanely and most importantly, without impeding urination
  • maintaining antibiotic cover to prevent infection.

Once the uterus is replaced, most cases proceed well with the swelling subsiding and straining settling.

Long term management

Cows with a history of vaginal prolapse should be retired from breeding. They will have a higher propensity to prolapse again. Cows that have experienced a full uterine prolapse may be difficult to breed again.