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Dr. Taus
Dr. Taus, Veterinarian
Category: Veterinary
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Experience:  Veterinarian with experience in equine and small animal medicine.
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We have a 13-year-old retired herd sire with weakness

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We have a 13-year-old retired herd sire bull with weakness in his back legs, difficult to walk. He gets up and down OK.
Hi there,

My first thought is that your bull may have arthritis in his neck or back that is limiting his mobility. Older cattle will develop arthritis over time that can impinge on the spinal cord, causing weakness and loss of function in the hind end. Usually, the problem is in the neck, and you see weakness in the hind end first that gradually progresses over time to include stumbling in the front legs as well.

X-rays to prove that this is the problem are difficult because of the sheer mass of muscle we have to get through to see the spine. Usually, you need a high-powered machine at a referral hospital to see much. If you're interested in pursuing this, your vet may be able to refer you to a place that can get the imaging done.

At the farm, avoid handling that forces him to raise his head up, as this can make his signs worse. Your own safety is of course most important, but be especially careful putting him in a chute or head gate. Banamine (or phenylbutazone if you are certain he will NEVER go into the food supply) can help with signs by relieving inflammation and swelling around the joints that can make more room for his spinal cord and perhaps improve his signs. Overall, this is something to try to keep him comfortable and moving for a while longer. If it continues to progress (as it often does, since the joints in the spine are no longer normal), eventually you will have a down bull. However, it's impossible to predict how fast this happens. If it's taken him 13 years to get to the point where he has some weakness, he may continue to do ok with a little weakness for months to years. If he's worsening rapidly, he's unlikely to improve with medical treatment. Keep his feet trimmed so he can walk easily without tripping on himself.

In horses, there are surgical procedures that can be done to improve weakness 1-2 grades, but they are extensive and only done at a couple of hospitals, and I'm not aware of these procedures having been done in bulls.

I hope this is helpful. If so, please rate me positively, and don't hesitate to let me know how I can help further.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.
Thanks for the opinion. We're giving him 9cc banamine twice a week and 9 cc dexamethazone orally in his food once a week which healed up another 7-year-old bull we had with a similar problem after a month or so. Is there anything contagious that could cause such weakness? Bots? He eats and drinks well and feet seem OK. Sometimes I think somebody may be stopping on the road and hitting them with a bat or 2 x 4. We've had some vandalism. Another 2-year-old bull turned up with a broken leg 2 years ago. Never had any such bone problems before in over forty years in the business.
I don't know of anything contagious or infectious that would cause just the hind end weakness like that. Usually, if it's infectious (brain or spinal abscess, etc) we see more focal signs and we see changes that can be localized to the brain-- difficulty eating, changes in mentation, head tilt becoming dull and lethargic, etc. Also, if it's infectious, they tend to get worse with dexamethasone treatment.

You can give the Banamine as often as needed, up to twice a day, although we like to give as little as we can to still get results because it can contribute to GI ulcers if it's overdone.

I can't speak to an increase in musculoskeletal problems on your property (although I'm certainly sorry to hear about it!), but I'm less surprised to hear about these signs in a 14 year old than I would be from a younger animal. I see arthritic problems in old bulls pretty regularly that have been slowly brewing for years and the tough old guys don't show any signs until it's bad enough to start pushing on the spinal cord.

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