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Veterinarian Technician May 2012 (Vol 33, No 5)

Final View: A Cow With a Bone to Pick

by Sandra Rhodes, RAHT

    a deer skullcap

    Figure A. A partial deer skullcap.

    In early November, a 3-year-old female Angus beef cow presented to Dr. Michael Rhodes at Nanton Veterinary Clinic in Nanton, Alberta, Canada. The cow had been found lying down in a pasture and was reluctant to rise. The rough terrain made it impossible to take a trailer to the cow, so the owner used his horse to “push” the cow to walk to a trailer for transport to the clinic. (Cattle will naturally keep moving forward if a horse is behind them.)

    Physical examination of the cow revealed a temperature of 102.6°F (39.2°C; normal: 101.5°F [38.6°C]), a heart rate of 90 bpm (normal: 40 to 70 bpm), normal respiration, a static rumen, scant dry feces in the rectum, pregnancy (gestation: 120 days), a body condition score of 1/5, and a foul odor in the mouth. Inspection of the oral cavity revealed a large foreign body stuck to the hard palate and lodged between the teeth of the upper arcade toward the back of the mouth.

    Gentle manipulation was used to manually extract the foreign body (FIGURE A)—a partial deer skullcap with antler buds! Treatment was initiated using 50% dextrose (500 mL IV), vitamin B12 (2 mL IV), Hemo-15 (12 mL IV; a solution of iron, amino acids, and B vitamins; Virbac Animal Health), and one dose of long-acting oxytetracycline (50 mL [200 mg/mL] SC). The dextrose was given as an energy source because the cow had been unable to eat and was in a catabolic state. The dextrose was not for treating hypoglycemia but rather for stopping ketosis (unlike many other species, cattle with hyperketonemia do not have concurrent acidemia1). The cow was not clinically dehydrated, suggesting that she had been able to drink but not eat while the skullcap was in her mouth. Administration of crystalloid fluids was not required.

    For recovery, the cow was confined to a barn and fed a small quantity of oats along with leafy hay. (The leafy portion is easier to eat and contains more nutrients than the stem portion.) The day after the foreign body was removed, a nasal discharge developed but gradually resolved over a period of 7 days. After the first week, the cow slowly but steadily gained weight and continued to improve; she was reunited with the herd in early spring. The cow’s physical stress caused abortion of the pregnancy, but the cow was successfully bred when she reached normal body condition and remains with the same cow-calf operation.

    Why would a cow eat bone? Cows have been known to eat all sorts of things out of curiosity. In addition, osteophagia (eating or chewing of bones by herbivores) is not uncommon when cows graze in areas with phosphate-poor vegetation.

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    1. Ketosis in cattle: introduction. Merck Veterinary Manual. http://www.merckvetmanual.com/mvm/index.jsp?cfile=htm/bc/80900.htm. Accessed February 2012.

    References »

    NEXT: Idiosyncrasies in Feline Blood Transfusions


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