Cattle bloat: early diagnosis, treatment is essential

All cattle producers are plagued by the occasional chronic bloater. The problem is knowing what to do with them.

A chronic bloater is a free gas bloat that keeps reoccurring. The gas can readily be let off with a tube but then reoccurs within a day or so. The cattle always do poorly, which is why treatment must be initiated.

The rumen microflora have been altered or killed, which allows excessive gas to be produced. The calf’s ability to eructate or belch up the gas may also have been altered. All these factors come into play when deciding treatment.

The microflora can be killed by sickness, sudden changes in feed and especially when cattle go off feed.

Treatment focuses on the primary sickness, if there is one, and re-establishing these microflora. If bloating continues, the next decision is whether to do a minor surgery called rumen fistula.

The ideal way to re-establish the rumen microflora is with rumen fluid from a healthy animal on similar feed. This may be attempted if there is a packing plant close by or producers do their own butchering.

The rumen contents are squeezed or filtered to get a gallon or so of rumen fluid, which is then pumped into the sick animal using a larger bore stomach tube.

Some pumps are better able to handle larger particulate matter. Take care not to chill these rumen juices because their own environment is body temperature and they are sensitive to chilling.

It is best to pump the juices in as soon as possible. Repeating the procedure may be necessary in advanced cases.

Teaching colleges have a fistulated animal with a large plug that can be taken out when rumen contents are removed. I wish every large animal practice had access to one of these fistulated animals because they would be useful for treating chronic loaters and grain overloads.

Probiotics or rumen stimulants can be tried if rumen contents are not available. They come in powder, paste or bolus form and may need to be applied several times to turn the condition around.

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A rumen fistula is done if these treatments fail, which involves creating a hole from the rumen to the outside.

The area over the left flank is clipped and frozen. The internal rumen wall is then sutured to the skin, which creates a toonie size hole directly into the rumen. It is permanent or gradually heals over several months.

This is a quick and inexpensive procedure with good results. The rumen gases will continually escape and the animal will do better because there is no pressure. The rumen microflora re-establish themselves over time.

I have never read anything on this, but I suspect some cases occur when a growth spurt occurs and the calf is unable to eructate the gases quick enough. These specific cases make a dramatic improvement with a rumen fistula.

If the bloat is initiated by a primary disease, producers must assess the cost of the treatment and fistulation and the odds of the calf recovering from the primary disease. Chronic BVD or pneumonia cases can become chronic bloaters and are euthanized if suspected.

I look at the calf’s demeanor when determining whether a fistula is economical. The procedure is probably not warranted if the animal is extremely rough haired and has been a poor doer for a long time. All other cases warrant a fistula and can go on to be normal productive animals in the feedlot.

Marketing the fistulated calf must also be considered.

There is no problem if the producer is rail grading, but animals are often discounted if the fistula is evident. Local butchering may be in order.

These calves create quite a sight in the winter because steam rises out of the fistula. We once had to do this to a 4-H calf, and at achievement day the member smartly glued a patch of denim over the fistula.

Producers should only experience these chronic bloaters occasionally. Those who see too many of these cases should review their feeding programs with their veterinarian or nutritionists because they may be bringing cattle onto feed too quickly. There may also be some other underlying health problem.

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Pasture forage risks

Bloat-causing:

alfalfa, sweet clover, red clover, white clover, Alsike clover, winter wheat

Low risk:

arrowleaf clover, spring wheat, oats, canola, perennial ryegrass, Berseem clover, Persian clover

Bloat-safe:

sainfoin, birdsfoot trefoil, cicer milkvetch, crownvetch, lespedeza, fall rye, most perennial grasses

Source: Alberta Agriculture | WP GRAPHIC

Roy Lewis is a veterinarian practising in Westlock, Alta.

Teaching colleges have a fistulated animal with a large plug that can be taken out when rumen contents are removed. I wish every large animal practice had access to one of these fistulated animals because they would be useful for treating chronic

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