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Identifying Common Fresh Cow Illnesses (& How to Prevent Them)

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Battling a bout of illnesses with your fresh cows? Check out these frequently occurring health concerns that are common in cattle, and learn how to prevent them.

 

Milk Fever

Properly called hypocalcemia, milk fever occurs when blood calcium levels get too low. Milk fever often occurs within 72 hours of calving. Older cows and cows with poor nutrition are at an increased risk for milk fever.

Symptoms: Appears unsteady or wobbly, unable to stand, head displaced to one side or on flank, groaning, muscle spasms, rapid heart rate, cold ears and dry nose.          

Prevention: Maintain blood calcium levels with a negative DCAD diet in the dry period, or increase calcium with supplements immediately calving. Consider Vitamin D injections prior to calving for cows with a history of milk fever.


Uterine Prolapse

A potentially life threatening veterinary emergency that occurs immediately after calving. Increased risk for cows with milk fever.

Symptoms: The uterus is visible outside of cow as a large, deep red mass.

Prevention: Chronic prolapsing can be reduced with sutures.

 

Retained Placenta

The placenta was not expelled post-calving. While there are many contributing factors, retained placenta is more common for multiple or irregular births.

Symptoms: Fetal membranes are visible behind how and have not been passed within 24 hour time period of calving.

Prevention: Provide proper nutrition, ensure optimal body condition, and reduce stress pre-calving. 

 

Metritis

Inflamed uterus.

Symptoms: Increased uterine wall size/thickness, changes in discharge, decreased appetite, fever, decreased milk production. More common in cows that are prone to multiple births, stillbirths, milk fever, and ketosis.

Prevention: Ensure cow is healthy and has adequate body condition.

 

Mastitis

Inflamed mammary gland and udder, caused by bacteria or pathogens.

Symptoms: Elevated SCC count, changes in milk and udder appearance, abnormal temperature, loss of appetite, gas/air in teat.

Prevention: Use an adequate pre-dip and post-dip. Ensure cleanliness of udders, stalls, and milking units.

 

Ketosis

Blood glucose levels insufficient for energy requirements.

Symptoms: Decrease or loss of appetite, decreased milk production, lethargy, changes in rumination, dehydration, sunken eyes, abnormal licking, presence of acetone-like odor.

Prevention: Ensure adequate body condition in dry cows.

 

Displaced Abomasum (DA)

Twisted stomach, most often occurring within a month of calving.

Symptoms: Decreased appetite and milk production, prominent (raised) last rib, changes in manure frequency, “ping” or fluid sounds heard with stethoscope.

Prevention: Ensure adequate body condition in dry cows. Prevent ketosis.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Adams, Richard, Virginia Ishler, and Dale Moore. “Trouble-shooting Milk Fever and Downer Cow Problems.” Penn State University.

Lee, Karen. “How to Identify, treat, and prevent seven fresh cow illnesses.” Progressive Dairyman. 

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