Therapy and prevention of retained placenta in cattle



After my shoulder dislocation and operation (will tell you the whole story one day) I was useless for a while  and could not do any constructive veterinary stuff. While in the village I was faced with a retained placenta (afterbirth) case in a cow.  The workers just wanted to tie the poor cow to a donkey and pull the placenta out. Imagine! My poor husband had to chip in put his arm in the smelly mass and rectify the condition under my step by step instructions. Actually he got it right and I was impressed. So, this week let us discuss the therapy and possible prevention of retained afterbirth in cows.  

If the placenta is retained longer than 24 hours, the condition is classified as retained placenta or retained foetal membranes (RFM). Under normal circumstances most cows will pass the afterbirth within 6 hours of calving. Some cows take up to 24 hours. After that you should be worried!

Retained placenta mostly occurs in cows:

that abort or calve prematurely, 

that have twins, 

which have a difficulty in calving or any other deteriorating illness during the calving period

that calve under unhygienic conditions. This can also lead to metritis (infection of the uterus)

Have a variety of nutritional deficiencies such as calcium and especially during Milk Fever metabolic condition.  Older cows are more at risk due to reduced blood calcium.

 Vitamin E/selenium deficiencies have also been associated with increased incidence of retained afterbirth,

 Over fat cows have a higher risk than normal body condition

A retained placenta has considerable negative effects on the cow. Apart from possible infections of the uterus and vagina, the cow takes longer to get pregnant than usual because the uterus takes longer to recover. I have seen cases where some cows failed to conceive after a retained placenta. 

Treatment of Retained placenta

So far, a truly successful therapy has not been identified. Although manual removal had been a common practice in the past some veterinarians claim that this method should not be used because of possible injury to the uterus and cervix.  From my experience and working in the villages, as long as you are gentle and patient, you can produce beneficial results. Here are the step by step guidelines to remove the retained placenta in cows:

Dilute an antiseptic solution such as povi-done iodine solution such as Betadine (you can use Dettol or Safflon or warm soapy water) in a 5liter bucket.

Clean a soft pipe about 1m long (like the ones used for gardening) thoroughly with the antiseptic water. Lubricate the tube with glycerol or liquid paraffin to allow easy access into the uterus 

Wear arm-long gloves (if available) and insert the lubricated tube in the vagina until it gets stuck.

Let an assistant fit a small funnel on to the tube and pour the antiseptic water until the water spills over. (I get an occasional smelly shower from the splashing water, so be careful here).

You can also ask your assistant to massage the rectum gently (it helps to relax the uterus). 

Use your gloved hand in the uterus to thoroughly wash the whole uterus and placenta from side to side. 

Fill up another bucket of antiseptic water and repeat the wash

Gently try to pull the placenta outward. If one place get stuck, manoevour your hand onto another position of the placenta and gently pull. This takes a lot of patience! 

After the whole placenta falls down, fill up another bucket with water and wash the uterus thoroughly again until the water becomes fairly clean and the smell is not offensive 

Just like in the replaced vaginal prolapse that we discussed last week, insert intra-uterine antibiotic pessary (baarmoeder pille) to help fight the infection

Generally, the dominant approach on many farms to retained placenta in cattle with a rectal temperature ≥ 39.5°C within the first 10 days post calving is to receive an injectable antibiotic treatment. 

Control and prevention of Retained placenta

The control of retained placenta needs to focus on the control of causative factors like abortions, premature calving, and calving difficulties. Good control of feeding and body condition during the dry period and avoiding cows becoming over fat, will also reduce the incidence of retained afterbirth. Proper nutrition especially 3 months before giving birth will improve the cow’s immunity and help to avoid metabolic diseases. Vitamin E, A and Selenium supplementation as well as good maintenance of Calcium and Phosphate ratio are critical nutrients that will help to avoid placental retention. I read recently in the Agriforum that the injection of Multimin to cows one month before parturition will balance this important nutrients.

So, folks, giving the best nutrition to your animals is once again proven to be a great option to ensure optimum health...