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Fluid Therapy for Adult Cattle

Ruminant Fluid Therapy

Many diseases of cows cause dehydration. Common ones include acute mastitis, acute metritis, milk fever and ketosis. The worst consequence of dehydration is death. In cows which die of common diseases, it is often dehydration which ultimately kills them.

In less severe cases, dehydration delays the cow’s recovery. It also reduces her dry-matter intake, which increases the risk of complications – for example, left displacement of the abomasums (LDA).

It is not just sick cows which become dehydrated. The freshly calved cow is dehydrated too. Her opportunity to drink has been restricted during calving, she has been sweating and panting, and fluid may have accumulated in the tissues of the birth canal as a consequence of bruising. The more difficult the calving was, the more dehydrated she will be.


How can we treat dehydration?

There are two things dehydrated cows need. One is water, the other is electrolytes. A healthy cow just drinks what she needs and gets electrolytes from her feed. But a sick or weak one will not drink and eat as much as she needs to. Dehydration can then become an emergency. Untreated, it can cause a sequence of metabolic changes that can even become fatal.

We can treat dehydration with an intravenous drip. This will cause a rapid improvement in condition. And if the cow does not drink enough, it may not be effective.


Pump-drenching cows

There is an alternative. They are pump and drenching set, which delivers water and electrolytes directly into the rumen.

These systems were originally used just by vets but they are not difficult to use, and more and more farmers now keep one on the farm. New users need a short training session on how to pass the hose into the gullet rather than the windpipe, and how to check they have done so.


A life saver

Most farmers started by using the fluid systems for cows with acute mastitis, particularly cases caused by E. coli. Without prompt rehydration, they can often die.


Electrolytes for cows

Dehydrated cows have very different electrolyte requirements from calves. Formulae designed for calves are usually on hand, but they should not be used for cows. They can actually worsen the condition of a dehydrated cow. She should always be given an electrolyte formulation designed for cows. Not only are these formulations more suitable, they are also less expensive.


Ketosis, cows off feed, fresh calvers

Once there is a fluid pump on the farm, a variety of cows can benefit from it. Ketotic cows become dehydrated as ketosis progresses, and will recover their appetite sooner if given fluids. Cows that have gone off their feed are the same. And fresh calvers can be given a special formula that will not only correct dehydration, but also help prevent milk fever, ketosis and left displacement of the abomasum.


Sheep fluid therapy

We may think of dehydration as a cattle issue we shouldn’t forget that it can be a problem for sheep as well. Twin lamb disease in particular causes dehydration and often when treating these ewes we don’t treat the dehydration. We should use oral fluids for sheep and they can use similar water and electrolyte and water combinations that we use for cattle and there now fluid delivery systems for sheep as well.


Please contact Kebir House if you want to know about fluid delivery systems for cattle or sheep.