Vaginal and Uterine Prolapses in Beef Cows - Frequently Asked Questions

Prepared by Nanita Blomquist, Ag-Info Centre, Alberta Agriculture Food and Rural Development
calendar icon 7 February 2007
clock icon 3 minute read

What is a prolapse?

A prolapse is defined as: the falling down or slipping of a body part from its usual position. Vaginal or cervical prolapses are two types that occur in beef cows.

The complete uterine prolapse is most common at calving. This is when the uterus is completely expelled out behind the cow, and can hang down to the hocks when standing. This condition can be life threatening for the cow, and the uterus must be cleaned and reinserted as quickly as possible. The cow can go into shock quickly and die from blood loss.

A cervical prolapse is usually seen in older cows and occurs when the tissue around the birth canal becomes relaxed during the later stages of pregnancy. The increased pressure in the abdominal cavity will push the vagina or rectum out. If there is tissue trapped outside the birth canal, it can swell and become infected. The bladder can also be trapped in the expelled tissue, preventing the animal from urinating.

What causes a Uterine Prolapse?

A uterine prolapse is usually seen immediately or within hours of calving. A difficult calving that causes injury or irritation of the external birth canal, severe straining, or excessive pressure applied when pulling a calf can cause a uterine prolapse. Poor uterine tone or nutritional related problems with low blood calcium levels or animals in poor body condition can increase the incidence of uterine prolapses. Other causes can be a retained placenta, or a loose uterine attachment in the abdominal cavity, which could be a heritable.

What causes a Vaginal Prolapse?

Fat or over condition older cows are more prone to having vaginal prolapses. Calving twins or triplets can also cause a prolapse. Summer calving herds on high quality legume pasture are at higher risk.

How do I treat a uterine prolapse?

A uterine prolapse is an emergency situation, and it is critical for the cow to be treated quickly. Contact your veterinarian for assistance with this procedure. If the uterus is placed back improperly, internal haemorrhaging can occur, leading to death.

How do I treat a vaginal prolapse? The vagina must be re-attached to the muscles in the immediate area. Consult a veterinarian to help with this procedure.

What can I do to prevent prolapses?

With vaginal prolapses, it is important not to allow cows to become overly fat during the last trimester of pregnancy. Cull animals that have experienced a vaginal prolapse. Subsequent vaginal prolapses are typically worse than the first. Prolapses can also be an inherited trait. If there is a high incidence in the herd, check the bloodlines of the cows and bulls in the herd. Try to identify any common bloodlines, avoid these lines in the future. Do not keep replacement heifers or breeding bulls from known lines that have experienced prolapses.

If large calves are a possible cause of the prolapse, use low birth weight bulls in the breeding program, and provide a ration to keep the cow herd in good condition and not over conditioned.

When pulling a calf, do not use excessive traction.

Are there any long-term consequences of a prolapse?

With uterine prolapses, if a good clean job is done replacing the uterus, it is not necessary to cull the cow from the herd. Be aware that cows that have prolapsed have a higher risk of prolapsing again compared to those who have never had this condition. If an infection has occurred when replacing the uterus, the cow may be slow to rebreed or may not rebreed at all.

Revised January 2007
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