As we start another calving season, an annual problem has reared its ugly head again. I am seeing a large number of various prolapses in cattle that are due to calve or have already calved out. There are various types of prolapses that occur in cattle; it is important to recognize the different forms and know how to effectively deal with them to get optimal repairs.
There are three primary types of prolapses involving the reproductive tract that occur in cattle. They are uterine, cervical and vaginal prolapses. Cervical and vaginal prolapses can occur at the same time, although each type generally occurs by itself. The most critical and life threatening prolapse is the uterine prolapse. This occurs following calving when the uterus is expelled by the cow after the calf is delivered. Once prolapsed, the uterus begins to swell and can double or triple in size in a matter of 2-3 hours. Cows generally prolapse because of fatigue due to a difficult calving, low blood calcium causing decreased muscle tone or in down cows that strain to get up following calving and cannot stand or sit up. When a cow is found with a uterine prolapse, it is important to do a couple of things. First, if she is standing, quietly and slowly move her to a clean area. Avoid making the cow run. The uterus is a large, heavy organ and can tear badly when a cow runs. Secondly, if the cow is down, clean the uterus and place a large plastic or paper bag underneath the prolapse to keep it clean until a veterinarian can get there to replace the organ. Uterine prolapses are emergencies; call your vet and get help as soon as possible. Once replaced, the vulva is sutured partially closed to decrease the chance of immediate recurrence. Cows that prolapse their uterus are not guaranteed to repeat at the next calving, and can be rebred; many cows treated promptly become pregnant and calve again multiple times.
Vaginal prolapses are most common in late-term pregnant cows. They often appear as a smooth mass of tissue protruding from the vulva varying in size from a softball to a basketball. Frequently, these prolapses occur in late gestation as the calf gets larger and the cow begins to strain because of the large calf. A greater number of these occur in winter, when cows are fed dry hay, increasing rumen fill and decreasing space for the reproductive tract within the abdomen. A number of factors contribute to this condition. It is usually seen in older cows, but young cows can develop the condition. Vaginal prolapses result from laxity in the ligaments that hold the vagina within the pelvic canal. In certain breeds, there is a genetic component to this developing laxity of the vagina. Herefords, Simmentals and Brahman cross cattle have a greater chance of developing this condition, but vaginal prolapses occur in all breeds. Beef cattle are far more likely to develop a vaginal prolapse than dairy cattle. Vaginal prolapses are not immediately life threatening, but need to be repaired promptly. Once replaced, the vulva is sutured. This suture often will need to be removed prior to calving. Vaginal prolapses will recur in following pregnancies; is it always advisable to sell the cow for slaughter before she gets pregnant again. Discuss with your vet options for each individual cow.
Cervical prolapses involve the cervix protruding from the vulva. It is often seen in Brahman cross cattle that have a larger cervix than other breeds. The process occurs similar to vaginal prolapses. The repair procedure is similar to vaginal prolapses. Cows with vaginal or cervical prolapses can be moved without fear of significant damage to those organs.
When you have one of these problems, call your veterinarian for advice and help to correct the situation. Regular visual checking of your herd will help catch these problems while they are manageable, for a good outcome.
Mike Bloss, DVM, owns Countryside Animal Clinic with his wife, Kirstin Bloss, DVM, in Aurora, Mo.