Many producers have seen a cow with a prolapsed reproductive tract, either vaginal or uterine, though not all are aware of how these cases should be dealt with and how these conditions affect the cow in the future. Of the two types of prolapses, the vaginal occurs more often. A vaginal prolapse can occur anytime, however it is most common in the later stages of pregnancy due to the increased pressure in the abdominal cavity. These cows are observed to have a pink mass ranging in size from a large orange to a soccer ball extending out of the vulva. Once this tissue prolapses it is exposed to all the environmental elements including extreme temperatures, wind, sun and debris which can cause problems with replacement and infection. Vaginal prolapses are reoccurring problems and are known to exist in certain blood lines and breeds. This means that a female that has a vaginal prolapse should be culled and daughters off her should not be kept for replacements. Other contributing factors to this type of prolapse are older-aged cows, cows carrying twins, cows with Brahman bloodlines or cows grazing clover. Keeping cows from becoming overly fat during the last trimester of pregnancy can reduce the risk of vaginal prolapse.
Vaginal prolapses are not ordinarily life threatening, though they should be treated as soon as possible to limit the environmental exposure, and the size of the swelling. The longer the prolapse is out, the more swelling occurs making it more difficult to get it positioned back into the cow. The swelling can also impede urination and cause repetitive straining which further irritates the expelled tissue. Your veterinarian will handle a vaginal prolapse by repositioning the tissue back into the body cavity. The tissue first needs to be cleaned with warm water to prevent or limit infection. An epidural is often administered to make the tissue easier to push back as it keeps the cow from straining. Once the tissue has been pushed back in, the vulva is stitched to prevent the vagina from prolapsing again, while allowing for urination. These stitches need to be left in for a minimum of two weeks and these animals have to be closely watched near calving to make sure the stitch is removed so these cows do not tear or have difficulty calving.
The other type of prolapse is a uterine prolapse. Uterine prolapses occur during calving or within a few hours following calving. They are much larger, usually hanging down to the hocks with the buttons (caruncles) evident. Factors that can increase the risk of uterine prolapse are difficult calvings that cause injury to the birth canal, severe straining, hard pulls, thin cows or cows lacking calcium. This condition is a medical emergency and is life threatening. A veterinarian should be contacted to replace the uterus immediately. These animals should be kept quiet and still. They are best treated on farm as damage to the uterus can occur during transport. These cows have an increased risk of death due to internal haemorrhage and shock. This type of prolapse is not hereditary and usually will not happen again. However these animals may be slow to rebreed or not breed back due to the trauma they suffer.
Allison Bartel is a practising veterinarian and owner of the Watrous Animal Hospital in Watrous, Sask., and a member of the Western Canadian Association of Bovine Practitioners.
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