Postpartum period key to prevent, diagnose disease

Metritis is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the uterine wall, including the endometrium, muscular layers and serosa


Metritis in beef herds continues to decrease as management improves, but uterine infections can be a concern during the postpartum period, said a veterinarian.

“Our herds are getting bigger and our management is getting better. Generally speaking, our producers are doing a better job in terms of what we see with diseases,” said Colin Palmer from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan.

He said the postpartum period is one of the most important times in a cow’s reproductive life. It’s a key area for veterinarians to focus on in terms of prevention, diagnosis, and appropriate treatment of uterine diseases like metritis. Metritis is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the uterine wall, including the endometrium, muscular layers and serosa.

Palmer said the goal is to have the cow calve normally and proceed through the postpartum period with as few problems as possible.

Dairy cattle are generally more susceptible than beef cattle to metritis but they are also more likely to be examined.

Possible reasons include more production stress, more exposure to bacteria in tighter living quarters and altered uterine immune function because dairy cows’ ovarian cycle is faster than that of beef cattle.

Often the predisposing factor for metritis is retained placenta but Palmer cautions that removing the placenta is not recommended. Veterinarians should instead focus treatment on metritis and not on the retained placenta.

“(Removal) causes more damage than good. Lots of times with beef cows, we just leave it alone and see how they do. If they start to look depressed or sick or whatever, then we might put them on systemic antibiotics because they’re showing signs of metritis,” he said.

“A cow normally sheds (the placenta) within about two to four hours of birth at the latest. If it sticks around for more than a day it’s a retained placenta, or retained fetal membranes, and that’s the No. 1 predisposing factor (for) metritis.”

Typical symptoms of puerperal metritis include failure to pass the placenta, low appetite and/or decreased milk production.

“Systemic signs such as depression, dehydration, anorexia and a body temperature greater than 39.5 C in any cow occurring within one or two weeks of calving should warrant further examination of the uterus and its contents,” Palmer said.

Retained fetal membranes and resulting metritis is caused by abortions, particularly twin abortions, as well as vitamin and mineral deficiencies, poor feed quality and winter housing conditions.

“The odds of a cow with retained fetal membranes developing metritis is six times greater than that of her unaffected herd mate; far greater than other conditions,” he said.

“Cows that developed metritis ate two to six kilograms less feed than their healthy contemporaries two to three weeks prior to showing signs of metritis and spent significantly less time feeding during the last three weeks precalving.”

Deana Schenher sees few cases of metritis in her veterinary practice in Melville, Sask.

She said many producers have the proper skills to handle most issues surrounding dystocia, such as wrong calf position and size, or twisted uterus.

Palmer said lower cases of dystocia can also be attributed to expected progeny differences.

“There’s just a lot more focus on it, knowing that it’s better to have a smaller live calf than it is to have a great big dead calf,” he said.

However, during calving season Schenher is called to perform a few caesareans each week.

“If it’s a fetal oversize or a fetal monster or even calves that are tangled up and you can’t get them sorted out, then we would do a caesarean section on them,” she said.

Early intervention with calving problems greatly reduces the risk of bacteria entering the uterus.

“If (producers) notice retained placenta or if cows have an odorous smell to them, get them treated early, so that it obviously doesn’t continue to make that metritis case worse,” she said.

Schenher recommended that producers use an antiseptic scrubber solution to thoroughly clean the perivulval region to prevent contamination into the uterus.

“Bacteria enters into the uterus following calving, usually within the first week to 10 days. It’s because that uterus is an open environment while you’re pulling out the calf.”

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