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Individual animal treatments are often worth pursuing

Beef 911: We focus on the herd, but it’s often worth it to treat problems specific to one animal

Individual animal treatments are often worth pursuing

We focus on herd medicine, herd reproduction, production, biosecurity, animal welfare and marketing — and these, without a doubt, have a big impact on profitability as well as consumer acceptance.

However, in cattle production there are still the individual cases which require our attention and can have favourable outcomes.

Early detection and treatment increase our prognosis. We also must differentiate those animals that can humanely be shipped for salvage or butchered for own consumption in some cases. Others may need to be humanely euthanized.

This article will focus on individual animal treatments which offer a favourable prognosis and are worth pursuing.

The philosophies of different veterinarians may vary slightly, so sometimes it is a matter of finding one willing to try or who has experience with the particular case. Veterinarians with an interest in lameness or reproductive problems or bull breeding issues or mass removals or specialized surgery may need to be sought out. Most larger mixed- or large-animal practices would have a veterinarian with these qualifications.

Lumpy jaw, if confirmed by a thorough oral exam and if presented quickly enough, can often have progression stopped. Veterinarians often use a sodium iodide IV and an antibiotic to try to stop the progression so the cow or bull can stay in the herd (if that is what is desired). Wooden tongue (which is even rarer in my eyes) can have a very successful outcome if treated directly. In the case of lumpy jaw, we often may delay treatment a bit if the cow is pregnant as the sodium iodide has been known to cause abortions and is very irritating to tissue (so it absolutely must be given intravenously). The lump will never regress and is a blemish that will stay. Again, timing is critical if the swelling and jaw damage are too great, the response is poor. Earlier on in the disease process response is often very good.

Young calves with broken tibias (bone between the hock and stifle) can have a pretty favourable response if a Thomas Schroeder splint is applied. The bone breaking through the skin carries a much worse prognosis of course, and the calf will be dragging around a splint so must be kept out of cold weather as freezing of the exposed leg is possible. These, much like a cast application to a fractured lower leg, can still carry a fair prognosis, with healing in about the three- to four-week period. Your veterinarian will assess the location and degree of break to arrive at a true prognosis. While the leg may heal a bit crooked, a viable marketable calf is the final goal.

A cut penis on a breeding bull — if caught early, pulled from the breeding herd and given adequate medical attention and sexual rest — might carry an 80 per cent prognosis to return to breeding function. We see many herd bulls in practice that have had a big scar from a bad cut the year before and recover uneventfully. However, they most certainly would miss most of the breeding season they are currently in.

Veterinarians can learn a lot from a post-mortem because they can totally visualize the pathology present and get a diagnosis which may help the rest of the herd. It especially helps with the BSE program. I realize the payment for BSE testing varies a lot from province to province, but I encourage doing it to pinpoint disease issues in the herd.

A couple of examples are a thin cow that dies and the veterinarian discovers pyelonephritis resulting in kidney failure and death. By recognizing those symptoms, the owner may be able to recognize the early scuttle signs, implement treatment and save the cow. To me, these seem more common close to calving when the cow is also filtering the unborn calf’s blood. So we are often talking about saving the unborn calf in these cases as well.

Another is discovering hardware disease on a post-mortem. Discovering the source of metal or installing rumen magnets installed in other cows are potential management changes which could be made solely based on a post-mortem. The diagnosis on a post-mortem is often very definitive.

From rumen fistulas for chronic bloaters, to rectal amputation in severe rectal prolapses, to joint lavages in septic arthritis, either amputating a claw or fusing the distal joint in the foot in severe infections and many, many others are procedures which can be done by veterinarians. Every case is unique and depending on factors such as early detection, cost, age of animal, ability to follow up with after-care, many can have very favourable outcomes and the animals can go on to productive lives.

Veterinarians can often give a pretty darn accurate prognosis. Depending on whether it is a commercial animal or purebred, or breeding bull in the prime of his life, a prognosis can determine the outlook for returning to breeding function. Other times we must simply take steps to take away pain and suffering, and allow time for withdrawal periods to be met.

I encourage you to look at all these cases as individuals. And just because a surgical procedure or treatment wasn’t successful in the past, doesn’t mean it will be in the present case. Modern treatments, especially the use of NSAIDs (painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs), have definitely upped the prognosis and speed of recovery in many cases.

About the author


Roy Lewis practised large-animal veterinary medicine for more than 30 years and now works part time as a technical services veterinarian for Merck Animal Health.



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