The dreaded downer cow (Proceedings)


The dreaded downer cow (Proceedings)

Aug 01, 2008

"Downer" animal

Animal with prolonged recumbency (>12 hrs) that is persistent and intractable


• Myriad of potential causes that include

o Infectious

o Metabolic

o Toxic

o Degenerative disorders

o Traumatic

• Not by any means an all inclusive list

Can be a considerable source of frustration


• History

o Reproductive status?

o Diet?

o Environment?

o Recent treatment

o Length of time recumbent

• Physical examination

o Visual before animal is approached

o Area around animal

o Signs of external trauma, riding, etc.

o Systemic analysis

• Heart rate, respiration, rectal exam

• Be thorough, but remember to first look for the horses, not the zebras


• Metabolic disease

• Mastitis

• Metritis

• Massive sepsis

• Musculoskeletal/neurologic disease

• Mystery

Severity and duration of above diseases determines whether an animal becomes a "downer"

Metabolic disease

• Hypocalcemia

o Cows that don't respond to IV calcium may have other electrolyte abnormalities ie: phosphorus

o May become downers due to lack of response, pressure necrosis or injury due to struggling to rise

• Hypokalemia

o Long-term treatment with corticosteroids may predispose to loss of K

• Hypophosphotemia

o Probably need lab work to definitively diagnose this

o Non-responsive milk fever

• Hepatic lipidosis

o Urine ketones, serum chemistry

• Nervous ketosis

o Urine ketones, serum chemistry


• Acute, endotoxemia due to gram negative bacterial infection (sometimes Staph.)

• Elevated heart rate, louder than that of milk fever

• May or may not have fever

• Edema and/or heat in affected quarter

• Milk is watery, serum like or blood tinged

• Can see this with gangrenous mastitis in initial stages


• Distended uterus, possibly retained membranes

• Foul discharge, brown, watery