Prolapses: What Causes Them and How Should We React?

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Calving time is here and with it we normally see, or hear of, at least a handful of prolapses with cattle and other livestock. By definition prolapse is the displacement of a part or organ of the body from its normal position. The occurrence of a prolapse in some cases is something that may require a call to your veterinarian, but at the very least it will require more attention that other animals who go through calving season with ease. So how do you know as a producer if an animal that is experiencing a prolapse needs veterinary attention or not, and what does your plan for that animal need to be following recovery?

newborn lambFirst, to answer that question we would need to be able to identify which type of prolapse an animal is experiencing. There are two main types: 1) Vaginal Prolapse and 2) Uterine Prolapse. A vaginal prolapse is characterized usually by a cow, in late gestation, that has not calved yet but they may be close. The extra weight of that growing calf and rumen as the cow starts to get bigger puts extra pressure on the cervix and vagina causing, in some cows that have the potential to prolapse, a pink, usually smooth, bubble type protrusion that can range in size from small to as large as even a soccer ball. It may vary in size and go in and out, being smaller when the animal is standing and larger when the animal is lying down. This type of prolapse is important to identify as you may on occasion have an animal that experiences a bladder prolapse out into that vaginal prolapse, they are experiencing and if this were to happen the cow would not be able to urinate properly creating even more complications. Vaginal prolapses are known to have a genetic component. Meaning that it is more likely for female offspring of cows that experience vaginal prolapses to experience this same type of prolapse themselves. Therefore, cows which experience this type of prolapse should be culled and female offspring should not be kept and introduced back into the breeding herd.

A Uterine prolapse can occur at the time of or shortly after calving and is usually associated with a difficult birthing experience. When compared to what a vaginal prolapse looks like, a uterine prolapse is much larger, usually hanging down near the hocks of the cow and will display large buttons or bumps that can be purple in color. The cow will most likely be lying down. This type of prolapse has a high potential to cause bleeding of the large uterine arteries and blood vessels and if this is not stopped it can lead to death quickly for the animal. So timely veterinary attention is very important in these cases due to exposure to infectious agents as well as the weather and other dangerous elements. Fortunately, these types of prolapses when properly repaired and treated can have positive results and these cows are no more prone than others to experience a prolapse in subsequent years. However, due to recovery time these cows may be late rebreeding when compared to other cows in the herd. Depending on the management style and plan of an operation this may be reason enough to cull these cows.

Both types of prolapse are considered emergencies and would need medical type attention but how we handle them is maybe the most important factor involved in the topic. Keeping cows in a breeding herd that have the potential to displace our breeding season and/or take a toll on our bottom line financially due to necessary veterinary care is not usually a recommended business practice. Producers can do wonders for their herd, overall farm financials, and ease of daily operations by simply culling animals which have the potential for complications. Remember, each management decision, no matter how important or minor it might seem, should be helping us reach our goals.

Producers or prospective producers can find out more information pertaining to this article by contacting Kendra Fortner at the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Jackson County Center at 828-586-4009 or the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Swain County Center at 828-488-3848 or by email at