FA GI Topics

Bovine GI Surgical Disorders

Cattle get a few GI disorders relatively often and the rest are rare. The common disorders include:

  • abomasal displacement
    • The abomasum should be located ventrally, just to right of midline. However, it does have microbes and can fill up with gas. When it does, it can float out of position. It typically floats up to the left in postpartum dairy cattle (LDA =left displaced abomasum). It can float to the right (RDA). RDAs occur equally in all types of cattle; postpartum cows are NOT more prone to RDAs.
  • abomasal volvulus
    • When the abomasum floats to the right, it has more freedom of movement and can also twist, creating an abomasal volvulus. This only happens with right sided displacements.
  • abomasal ulcers
    • Ulcers are not a surgical lesion but often accompany abomasal displacements and can make things trickier. Ulcers can bleed, making the animal anemic and a bad surgery candidate. Ulcers can perforate, causing localized peritonitis. Peritonitis can be a messy surprise at surgery. Peritonitis can also create adhesions, making it harder to move the abomasum back to its normal location.
  • hardware disease
    • Officially known as traumatic reticuloperitonitis, something sharp pokes out of the reticulum, leaking reticulum juice and creating an abscess and adhesions. Since cattle are not discriminate eaters, this happens relatively often. The reticulum is right behind the diaphragm. This means penetrating objects can cause infections in the abdominal cavity, thoracic cavity or pericardial sac.
  • cecal dilation/torsion
    • Cecal dilations are not as common as DAs but are common enough to be an important differential. Generally this occurs due to poor motility (hypocalcemia). The cecum becomes gas distended. It can twist but that isn’t common. Like LDAs, this is most common in postpartum dairy cows.
  • bloat
    • bloat can be either free gas or frothy bloat
    • free gas bloat occurs when the animal can’t eructate (obstruction, nerve issues)
    • frothy bloat occurs when cattle are adjusting to a dietary change (growing calves, eating excessive legumes)
  • intestinal obstruction
    • this one is fairly generic and includes hemorrhagic bowel syndrome, adhesions, tumors, torsions and other intestinal accidents. Atresias are also found in all parts of the intestinal tract with colonic atresia being the most common. Intestinal surgery is challenging to perform in the field.
  • peritonitis/peritoneal abscesses
    • cattle wall things off well. Because of this, they can live through bowel leaks that would kill most other animals

Many of these (LDAs, abomasal ulcers, cecal dilation, hardware disease) occur in the postpartum cow and more than one can be present in the same animal.

Because gas is involved in many of these, “pings” are often useful diagnostic aids. Ultrasound is also useful to identify abscesses and peritonitis.

Most GI surgeries are performed in the standing animal but there are options to perform surgery in the recumbent cow with or without general anesthesia. Because standing surgery is reasonable in cattle, exploratory surgery is a good diagnostic tool. Exploratory surgery is usually performed from the right flank. This approach allows access to most but not all GI structures. Because of the rumen, abdominal exploration from a ventral approach or from the left is difficult.  Obviously, a left sided approach is necessary for rumen surgery or to treat hardware disease. The abomasum is best accessed ventrally (right paramedian approach).  The ruminant anatomy means it is important to decide on the likely issue and the optimum surgery approach (right side, left side, from underneath).


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Large Animal Surgery - Supplemental Notes Copyright © by Erin Malone, DVM, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.