As we hit the first week of spring things begin to heat up. Vets and farmers across the country are going into autopilot, calving and lambing time brings with it lots of issues. With both cattle and sheep going through a huge event in their yearly cycle that of birthing. This is a time where we see a big increase in sickness. Mostly due to the fact that birthing is stressful and with added nutritional strain of new demands of milking and mothering.
A case I saw this weekend illustrated this. I got a call to an old cow down 4 days after calving! I often reflect on these cases as a great learning case for a young vet. The immediate suspicion was milk fever. A nine year old heavy limousine X cow lying in the corner of the shed with her neck folded into her side.
Experience has thought me much and I really will spend time assessing the visual symptoms I am presented with before a full clinical exam. The farmer had given calcium under the skin 2 hours previously and had seen little response. The obvious conclusion with these symptoms is to consider milk fever. Where a cow particularly an older heavier cows cannot draw calcium from the bones into blood to match demands. We must remember calcium interactions can be complex with minerals like Magnesium and potassium playing a role, also diet and condition score. The demand for calcium in early lactation is huge, so the cow must draw this from her bones into blood until such a time as herr dietary intakes match outputs.
When we see an increase in cases of milk fever we must investigate thoroughly the potential causes. It is also like an iceberg with many cows not showing classic symptoms but in fact having low calcium. Calcium plays a role in immune cells and muscle function amongst other things. What can happen when it is low at herd level is it can be a gateway for so many diseases. So always investigate increased incidences of milk fever or low blood calcium in cows. At a micro level this is actually what was happening with this cow!
My clinical exam confirmed my suspicions this lady had symptoms of milk fever but also had a much more serious underlying problem. Her eyes were sunken and she had a high temperature, along with symptoms of milk fever. With a lift of her back leg and drawing out one quarter that was inflamed we found an acute coliform mastitis ( a watery ecoli mastitis). Every time I see this case my mind is drawn to my first year in practice as a young vet. On a busy day I got a call to a similar case of milk fever, I quickly examined the cow and treated what looked like a classic milk fever! The next morning the cow was much worse and I identified the real problem a toxic mastitis. Luckily an understanding farmer and a hardy cow pulled through!
For forever in my brain ingrained never make presumptions and always thoroughly check the downer cow! A quote from the author of whinny the poo comes to my mind when I think of that hardy little cow. It is ‘good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement’. Yes I made a mistake but I learned from it, so my take home message with a downer cow especially not responding to calcium is keep checking and always strip out all four quarters to check for mastitis.
If I was guessing with my case at the weekend, I would say that the cow had milk fever yes but this made her much more prone to mastitis. The type of mastitis is for another article but it requires intensive treatment. She got lots of fluids , anti endotoxin/pain relief and a covering antibiotic. We also treated her for the milk fever, she required a second visit and more intensive treatment and pulled through.
The important messages here are
- Never presume anything with disease always be thorough.
- If seeing increased cases of milk fever think ‘iceberg’ and investigate diet and other factors
- Ecoli mastitis is very severe and needs rapid veterinary intervention.
So as spring begins I wish farmers, vets and everyone a happy and safe spring treating and preventing disease on our farms.