Deadly disease that affects pregnant cows

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Impaction occurs in animals under feedlot system on a cereal and chopped or ground roughages (hay or straw) diet.

Dear Daktari

I recently lost my valued cow. I called a vet who did postmortem examination and said the cow had died of impaction of the rumen. I had not stayed with the cow for long but when I bought it appeared to be in good health. I was feeding it on quality feeds mainly chopped hay. Strangely, a huge polyethene bag was found in one of its stomachs and the vet said this could have been the cause of death plus the hay. Is there anything I could have done to prevent this?

[William Njoroge, Naromoru]

Thank you, Njoroge for reaching out to us. Sorry for losing your dear cow. Learning about this condition will help you prevent future occurrences.

What is Impaction?

Now impaction occurs when feeds or non-feed materials accumulate in the stomach and this causes an imbalance in electrolytes in body fluids and digestion. It mostly occurs in the abomasum and rumen. Abomasum impaction is common in pregnant animals that do not take enough water, cereals and take poor-quality roughage feeds. Impaction also occurs in animals under the feedlot system on a cereal and chopped or ground roughages (hay or straw) diet.

Rumen impaction on the other hand, occurs because of the accumulation of indigestible materials in the rumen. When this happens, feed does not flow through and the stomach appears distended. The indigestible foreign materials include plastics, sand, sisal ropes, among others. In animals given feed and water containing mud or sand, sand may accumulate in the abomasum and lead to fatal impaction cases. Lack of mineral salts in a cattle’s diet results in the ingestion of such materials. Cattle that live in an environment with such indigestible materials are likely to eat them.

clinical signs of impaction?

Abomasal impaction is characterised by the drying of the abomasal content and enlargement of the organ because of the abnormal accumulation of solid matter. Impaction at its peak leads to lack of appetite, scanty feacal waste passage, dry muzzle, dehydration, distention, increased heart rate, weakness and weight loss. When sand is the cause of impaction, its particles will be present in feaces. In the case of abomasum impaction, the distention will be observed on the right lower quadrant of the abdominal area. Palpation of this area will reveal a solid mass. Feeding history is important when making a clinical diagnosis. If not treated, the cattle might die after three to five days following the onset of clinical signs. Postmortem will show rumen or abomasum enlarged. 

How is impaction managed?

Treatment of impaction aims at correcting the dietary cause. Where immediate nutrition is not the cause, this may not work and surgery may be the only option. With a timely diagnosis, surgery can be used to treat this condition although little success rate has been recorded.

The surgery aims to remove the offending materials. The subsequent loss of muscle activity lowers the success rate of this operation. Lubricants can be used to remove the impacted material. Electrolyte/mineral solutions are used alongside these treatments. Adequate fresh water should be given to affected animals. A stomach tube can be used to pass water into the rumen followed by massaging. This can heal an impaction caused by diet for example excess ingestion of cereals or poor-quality roughage.

Impaction is better prevented than managed as the prognosis is poor. Proper nutrition will help animals not to ingest indigestible materials.

[The writer is Vet of the Year Award winner and works in the Division of Communication and Vet Advisory Services within the Directorate of Veterinary Services; [email protected])

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