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Q&A: How Can I Tell If My Cow Passed Her Mummified Fetus?

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Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works with dogs, cats, exotics, and livestock.

Retained placenta can be a problem in cattle since the cervix cannot close and the uterus can easily become infected.

Retained placenta can be a problem in cattle since the cervix cannot close and the uterus can easily become infected.

Has My Cow Passed Her Mummified Fetus? How Do I Treat Her Retained Placenta?

"I have a Jersey cow who was recently palpated and found to be carrying a mummy calf. She was given dexamethasone and lutalyse to abort the calf. After the second time giving the injections, I kept her confined to observe her for the recommended 72 hours. When no results were seen, I turned her out on pasture.

The next day, she came in with a string of placenta hanging out. I don't know if she passed the calf while in the field (haven't found it) or if it is still in her. I'm unable to contact a vet to ask whether to just watch her, give her oxytocin (which I have on hand), or try to get her checked, which will be difficult on a weekend. My regular vet passed away, and there's no other large-animal vet nearby. Thank you!" —Melanie

What to Do About Retained Placenta in Cattle

Hopefully the placenta has passed by now. Most of them, even after a mummy, will slip out after a few hours. If it is more than a day, it can be considered to be "retained."

Retained placenta can be a problem in cattle since the cervix cannot close and the uterus can easily become infected. You need to see if she has a fever; if she does, she will need to be treated with antibiotics. If she does not have a fever or any other signs of being ill, some studies have shown that antibiotics may not be of any use. (1)

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If the placenta does not come out, though, I would still recommend that you give antibiotics instead of waiting for the vet. It is just as effective to give antibiotics as it is to try to remove the placenta by hand. (2) The best results have been with cetiofur, so you can use that if she has a fever.

Oxytocin has not been shown to be of any use in retained placenta. It can help to contract the uterus, but that will not matter to the placenta, and the mummy has most likely already passed, which is why she has the afterbirth hanging out. You will not know for sure she has passed the mummy unless you happen to find it in the field or you have a vet out to palpate and see if she is open.

Sources

(1) Peters AR, Laven RA. Treatment of bovine retained placenta and its effects. Vet Rec. 1996 Nov 30;139(22):535-9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8961522/

(2) Drillich M, Pfützner A, Sabin HJ, Sabin M, Heuwieser W. Comparison of two protocols for the treatment of retained fetal membranes in dairy cattle. Theriogenology. 2003 Feb;59(3-4):951-60. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12517396/

This article is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from your veterinarian. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Dr Mark

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