One of the most dramatic Spring emergencies we get called to is the cow who has prolapsed her uterus. If a cow continues to push after she has calved, but before the uterus has closed down, she has the ability to push her whole “breeding bag” right out. This will appear as a great big swollen red mass (up to a metre long and 50cm diameter) hanging out of her vagina (not rectum!). It will usually have fleshy red “buttons” on it – the other half of the cotyledons that you see attached to the membranes when they are passed.
It is an emergency, but seldom a cause for euthanasia! If quickly attended to, well looked after, and if it happens early in the season, these cows often even get back in calf.
Things that make her continue to push after calving (eg RFM’s, forced traction) or slow down the contraction of the uterus (fatigue, milk fever) are the main contributing factors.
What should you do? First call the vet!
Then make the cow safe and comfortable until we can get there. Usually these animals have milk fever, and they are much more likely to die from that than from their prolapsed uterus! So give them a single oral calcium supplement (if they can swallow) or a single bag under the skin. Any more than that and the uterus will start to contract (making it harder to get back in) or the cow may stand up (potentially damaging the fragile tissue).
If she is lying down, sit her up, and try to get something clean like a milking apron underneath the uterus to lift it off the mud. If membranes are attached, leave them on; if they are already separated the uterus can be gently washed with warm water. If she is standing and can be calmly walked to the cow shed, do that.
Written by Jason Darwen BVSc
Extract from the Dairy Newsletter – August 2008
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