FA GI Diagnostics & GI Surgery Principles

Rectal examination

Rectal examinations in cattle are relatively safe for both the examiner and the animal. Rectal tears are much less common than in horses but care should be taken. Epidural lidocaine (3-5 cc) is easy to administer but is generally not required.

Left abdomen

  • The rumen should have an indentable rumen pack and a small gas cap. If another gas distended viscus is present, this is usually an LDA
  • The spleen is not normally palpable.

Caudal abdomen

  • Ovaries and uterine tone should be checked and compared to the expected stage of gestation
  • The bladder and aorta are rarely abnormal
  • Sublumbar lymph nodes should be checked to identify possible lymphadenopathy from bovine lymphosarcoma
  • Pelvic fractures and hip displacements may be identified on rectal examination

Right abdomen

  • Any intestinal distension is abnormal and is usually the cecum, spiral colon or small intestine
    • Surgically explore any cows with palpable small intestine (via right flank)
    • Surgery is recommended for many cows with cecal distension; hypocalcemia treatment may resolve it without surgery
  • The abomasum is typically not palpable even with RDAs; a palpable abomasum usually means an abomasal volvulus and a very enlarged abomasum (not good)
  • Both right and left kidneys are palpable to the right of midline and are normally lobulated
    • Painful kidneys usually indicated pyelonephritis. Kidney removal is doable but generally these cow should be treated medically or culled.


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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.