While we’ve been blessed with a fairly mild fall, inevitably the temperature will plummet for us like it always does this time of year. And when it does, there are a few cattle ailments that tend to pop up in cold weather. While not immediately fatal, these are typically emergency situations requiring timely care for a full return to health.
One thing that likes to pop out when the weather drops well below freezing are prolapses. Both rectal and vaginal prolapses occur more frequently in the winter than in other months. We are not sure of the exact cause, but a combination of factors is probably to blame.
With either type of prolapse, correction needs to occur within the day. The internal tissue of both organs is robust, but susceptible to drying out and freezing. With greater damage, healing from this exposure will require more time. If the prolapse is uncorrected for too long, permanent scarring of the tissue may occur. With this, rate of gain may be affected.
To correct a prolapse, what has gone out must go back in. An epidural is given to block sensation to the affected area, and then the prolapsed organ is pushed back into the animal right-side in. A purse-string suture is placed around the external skin surrounding the opening and cinched tight enough to keep the prolapse in, but slightly open to allow fecal material or urine to be excreted. Note that this stitch should remain in the feeder animal permanently, as removal will allow the prolapse to reoccur.
The second condition commonly seen in freezing temperatures is bloat. Eating irregularities due to the inclement weather can induce bloat in a feeder calf, though other causes exist. Whatever the cause, the treatment is similar.
The primary action to aid a bloated calf is to relieve the gas pressure inside the rumen. Ideally this is done by passing a soft, flexible tube through the mouth and down the calf’s esophagus. Once inside the rumen, gas can move through the tube and out of the calf.
However, if the calf is extremely bloated and having difficulty breathing, the stress of passing a stomach tube can cause the calf to struggle and asphyxiate. In this situation, it is better to do an emergency rumenotomy, which means to create a hole directly into the rumen through the left flank. In a pinch, a sharp jack knife can be used. For an emergency rumenotomy, a stab incision is made in the left flank, not the right flank, two to five inches behind the ribs. This procedure should only be done if the animal’s life is in immediate jeopardy, as it allows bacteria to leak from the rumen into the body cavity. If you are unsure of how to do this procedure, seek training from your veterinarian.
Most bloats are not immediately life threatening and can be reduced with a stomach tube. It is a good idea to take the calf’s temperature after releasing the bloat to check for a fever. For a febrile calf, bloat can reoccur if the underlying infection is not treated. There are many options for antibiotics to choose from for calves with bloat and fever together, but whatever antibiotic is utilized should be given in combination with an anti-inflammatory such as flunixin meglumine or dexamethasone. These drugs will alleviate the pressure from a respiratory infection that often allows the bloat to occur.
While these conditions are not immediately lethal, they should be prompted addressed. Keep an eye on the pen when you feed every morning and try to walk through them on a regular basis to watch for problems. This way, the issue can be corrected expediently when it’s easy to fix and a return to full health can be accomplished.