There is something hanging out the back end of my cow! Prolapses are a common problem in beef and dairy cattle. Cows can prolapse before or after calving. While both are situations that must be corrected, there are some differences in the type and severity of a prolapse. Vaginal prolapses occur most often prior to calving and may or may not require veterinary attention. Uterine proplapses can only occur after the cow has calved and is immediately life threatening!
Vaginal prolapses appear as a pink to red mass protruding from the vagina. It starts out small, about orange size, and if left untreated will grow to about the size of a basketball. They are generally present in heavily pregnant cows due to pressure in the pelvic canal. When cows lay down the uterus and fetus are pushed up to the pelvis. These cows will strain to urinate and defecate while lying down, further increasing the pressure and forcing the tissue to prolapse outside the vagina. The blood flow to the tissue is also disrupted. Blood will be able to enter the tissue through the arteries, which will not collapse due to the pressure. However, the veins, which are weaker, collapse under pressure and therefore fluid dams up in the tissue, making the prolapsed worse. Other possible causes of prolapses include inflammation or infection of the vagina, breeding, and estrus (in heat).
Mild vaginal prolapses will go back in when the cow stands or stops straining to defecate. But if she starts to prolapse each time she lies down, or if she strains while lying there, the tissues may be forced out farther, to the point they cannot go back in. A vaginal prolapsed can become a serious problem. Once the tissue is protruding from the vulva, it is exposed to the cold, wind and dirt. Then she has a mass of vaginal tissue bulging out, becoming damaged, dirty and possibly infected. These cows require veterinary attention to replace and hold the tissue in.
A uterine proplapse, commonly referred to as the calf bed, occurs immediately after the cow gives birth, or within a few hours after. This is an emergency. A prolapsed uterus is much larger than a vaginal prolapsed, hanging down to the hocks in a standing cow. The tissue is a more deep red color and covered with “buttons” on which the placenta attached.
A uterus can prolapse for a variety of reasons. The most common cause is a difficult calving or forceful extraction with calf pullers. As the calf is delivered, the cow strains and forces the calf bed out after the calf. If the cow is thin or weak and uterus is tired, the uterus becomes flaccid and loses all its tone, making it hard for the muscle to hold itself in place. Cows that are low in calcium (hypocalcemic) will easily prolapse.
Treatment of both types of prolapses is done similarly. An epidural is given to freeze the hind end. This helps her to stop pushing and also makes the repair pain free. The tissue, either vagina or uterus, is carefully pushed back inside the cow after it has been gently washed with warm water and soap. A Buhner needle and string is used to suture the vagina closed, leaving an opening at the bottom just big enough so that she can urinate. These sutures must be removed later, so that she can either give birth or breed with a bull, depending on the situation. They are also treated with a long acting antibiotic.
Prevention includes culling all cows that prolapse. Cows should be fed to an ideal body condition to minimize fatigue and weakness. Proper nutrition will also minimize the chances of hypocalcemia.
If you have any questions regarding the above information or any questions/concerns in general, please contact Twin Valley VHS at 745-6642.
Dr. Justin Noble DVM
Twin Valley Veterinary Health Services