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Dr. Jo
Dr. Jo, Veterinarian
Category: Large Animal Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 95
Experience:  Lifetime of experience with equines, interest in bovine medicine, family run sheep farm.
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We have a cow that has had a dead calf inside of her for aprox

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We have a cow that has had a dead calf inside of her for aprox 5 days as best we can figgure. We found the cow today and got her to a pen. If the calf can be pulled in one piece (!) what are her chances to survive and if the calf comes apart as I expect it will, what are her chances to pass the rest unassisted? I know there are a lot of variables here but all the vets in our area are out for the holiday. We normally attend our own cows birthing so we do know what and how to deliver one, but this is not a normal disaster!

I am going to try and help with your cow. Five days is a long time for a dead fetus to be in the uterus. The chances of being pulled in one piece are not likely as the carcass will start to decompose fairly quickly. Most of the time, a fetotomy will have to be performed by a vet. The chances of her recovery are good if she is not showing any signs such as weakness, being off feed, fever, etc. Removing all of the fetal parts (skin, bone, etc.) and give the uterus a good flush with fluids and antibiotics will be important. A examination and palpation by a vet as soon as you can get one to the farm will be important to make sure the uterus has not torn, there is not a raging pyometra, and that the cow is not septic (bacteria in bloodstream). She will probably not be able to pass the fetus on her own and may develop a prolapse from straining. Your vet can give an injection to help the uterus contract and expel the contaminated fluid from the uterus.

I personally have done fetotomies on cattle with fetuses 7 days post labor and they have recovered well. It is not the most pleasant thing to do.....make sure you have a good restraint area for your vet. The cow usually does not like it either. The reason for the abortion/dystocia can be contagious bacteria/viruses so it is best to wear gloves and a full one piece coverall and thoroughly disinfect clothes, ground, etc. when done.
Best of luck and I hope your local vets are back from their holiday by tomorrow!
Dr. Jo

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Customer: replied 7 years ago.
Thank you for your response. I did finally locate a local vet in the interum who doesnt think she will make it very well either. He thinks that I should give her mega doses of antibiotics and let the calf "liquify". This is not a pleasent thought but I understand the gravity of the situation. We have a 200+ cow calf operation and dont want to lose any of them but this might be more than we can deal with. The calf is bloated inside the cow and I am really afraid to try to pull, knowing it will come apart. The local vet is not willing to try either. I believe this heifer just has a calf too big for her to deliver, and if I pull, I will pull off the parts that she actually could deliver, and leave the wedged part anyway. He suggested we put her down if we dont want to try the antibiotics and time to let the calf deteriorate. I am stumped but I understand it is a hard situation to diagnose.

The calf will usually come apart, but most of the time you can pull out all the pieces by palpation. A vet usually will use a fetotomy knife to disassemble the calf. Obviously, this must be done carefully because the knife can cut the uterus if you don't know what you are doing. It is not an easy task, but can be done with patience. If your local vet is not willing to try, can you call another vet? I understand the economics of the situation. I would not expect the cow to deliver because the proper "signals" for uterine contraction are gone and the uterine muscle is probably stretched and not able to contract as well as during delivery. Is she a dairy cow- (just answered my own said cow-calf so beef!)? If she is down she is probably hypocalcemic as well.

I sympathize with having to make the decision. It is not easy to lose one of your cows. Wish I was in the area and could help out. I would be afraid for your safety pulling alone so if a vet cannot help I think the suggested treatment sounds wise. She will probably have calving difficulties in the future as well due to pelvic diameter/measurements and an incident like this can affect future fertility and abortion risk due to retained placenta.

Best of luck and wish I could help you more,
Dr. Jo

Edited by Dr. Jo on 11/30/2009 at 2:20 AM EST