Producers sometimes have trouble recognizing udder edema.
It is fluid accumulation within the udder and teats and ahead of the udder as bred cattle (primarily heifers) get close to giving birth.
The fluid entrapment can lead to an uncomfortable condition and has the potential to cause mastitis. It could also impair long-term milk production.
Udder edema is much more frequent in dairy cattle than beef animals, but it can be present in heavier milking beef heifers or cows as well.
It is worse in older heifers, usually those older than 26 months, and in animals that get little exercise. It is more common in the heavier milking lines of Simmentals and other breeds that produce more milk.
The key is to recognize the accumulation of fluid in a heavy heifer about to give birth. You may notice then if the condition is worsening. At that point, questions must be answered to decide how to proceed.
You and your veterinarian must decide when the condition is bad enough to warrant treatment, keeping in mind concerns about the potential health effects such as mastitis or a decrease in the animal’s lifetime milk production.
Inducing birth may be the correct decision in some case because calving out could solve the problem. Dairy heifers are sometimes milked early to release the pressure, but because it is important to conserve the good quality colostrum for beef calves, this is virtually never done in beef cattle.
Treatment in more advanced cases consists primarily of diuretics, which help remove the excess fluid by having the animals pee it out. The animal’s loss of fluids is not specific to any part of its body, so constant access to water is necessary.
There are two main products that are used in the treatment of udder edema: Salix, which is solely a diuretic, and Naquazone, which contains a diuretic and a steroid.
If treating before parturition (when most beef heifers are treated) it must be noted that Naquazone could induce the heifer to calve. This may or may not be desired so discuss it with your vet.
Often during treatment, the heifer can be stripped somewhat and its milk checked for mastitis. Also, if the colostrum is well formed, (thick, sticky and yellow) it is a good argument that the heifer is close enough to giving birth that it is safe to induce.
Sometimes bringing on the calf two to three days early may be the difference in getting the udder edema to subside.
The situation must be monitored to ensure the calf can suck because the edematous udders are hard and it sometimes takes massaging and warm compresses to get the milk flowing.
Both treatments are effective at their standard dosages. Each treated case is variable but most animals are not treated for more than a few days.
Some of the edema will gravitate forward with time and the fluids will end up near the navel. It will gradually be reabsorbed from there.
Most udder edema cases in the beef industry are minor and are left to dissipate on their own because calving often occurs soon after cases are found.
Since the edema is caused by altered circulation, producers should also watch for frost bite in the winter.
In herds where many udder edema cases are found, factors such as age of the heifers, degree of fat cover, genetics and potentially some nutritional specifics could be looked at.
This situation illustrates how paying attention to udder conditions can prevent more serious conditions. Producers should evaluate the possibility of mastitis, blocked teat sphincter, chronic mastitis from dry off, blood in the udder or udder edema.
It’s a lot to look for but having udder conformation and teat size as part of the selection criteria in heifers definitely helps.
Roy Lewis works as a technical services veterinarian part time with Merck Animal Health in Alberta.