Dr Jeff Cave District Veterinary Officer
THE spring calving season is upon us and you may find a downer cow in your herd.
The prompt, correct diagnosis and treatment of the condition could help save you cows, time and money.
There are a number of potential causes, including: Physical injuries Calving paralysis is usually, but not always associated with heifers and a difficult calving. During calving a cow’s nerve, known as the obturator nerve, may be crushed between her pelvis and the calf.
A cow with calving paralysis will appear bright and alert but have no control over one or both of her hind legs. The only treatment is careful nursing and time; anti-inflammatory drugs are useful if used early. Calving paralysis needs to be distinguished from injuries such as dislocated hips and back injuries. Such injuries can occur in any aged animal often after an accident such as slipping.
A cow with these injuries will also be bright and alert and usually eat and drink normally. A veterinarian should be called to assess these animals. Metabolic diseases Metabolic diseases can be distinguished from physical injuries by the presence of other clinical signs. Milk fever is seen in older, high producing, fatter cows.
A cow with milk fever will show fine muscle tremors, staggering and weakness. Grass tetany is seen during times of stress such as bad weather on short grass dominated pastures. An affected cow will become aggressive, excited, go down and paddle and convulse violently.
Both milk fever and grass tetany should be treated urgently with 4 in 1; additional calcium or magnesium may be needed into the vein and should be administered by a veterinarian. Pregnancy toxaemia or acetonemia is an energy deficiency problem seen in cows losing weight or calving in poor condition. Behavioural signs will be seen before the cow goes down.
Cases may indicate a dietary deficiency being experienced by the whole herd. Toxaemia (blood poisoning) Mastitis, metritis or any other generalised infection causes toxaemia or blood poisoning.
A cow with toxaemia will appear depressed, with a dry nose and sunken eyes.
It is important to check the udders of downer cows for mastitis, and the uterus for tears or severe infections. Care of the downer cow Prompt treatment with appropriate veterinary drugs and good nursing are the keys to successfully treating a downer cow. The first step is to try and determine why the cow is down and to treat appropriately.
Cows should only be nursed if they have a realistic chance of recovery. Otherwise they should be humanely destroyed.
When nursing a downer cow move her to a dry sheltered shed and provide her with comfortable, dry, soft bedding on a nonslip surface. Sit her on her chest, position her correctly, and roll her from side to side at least two times a day. Provide her with feed and water. Use hip clamps only for a few minutes to get her on her feet.
For further advice contact your local veterinarian or Agriculture Victoria veterinary or animal health officer.