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 just to right of midline on the ventral abdomen. 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. It can float to the right.
  • abomasal volvulus
    • When the abomasum floats to the right, it has more freedom of movement and can also twist, creating an abomasal volvulus
  • abomasal ulcers
    • Ulcers are not a surgical lesion but often accompany abomasal displacements and can make things trickier.
  • 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
  • cecal dilatation/torsion
    • This one isn’t as common but is common enough to be an important differential. Generally this occurs due to poor motility. The cecum becomes gas distended. It can twist but that isn’t common
  • 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 are adjusting to a dietary change (growing calves)
  • 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 the colon 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 without general anesthesia. Because of the rumen, exploration from underneath or from the left is difficult. The abomasum is best accessed ventrally but the best exploration access is from the right. This 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 by Erin Malone, DVM, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.