I recently succumbed to a nasty dose of food poisoning.
was very busy on a particular day and on a quick pit stop home I warmed up the leftovers from the previous day’s dinner. Such was my hunger and my rush to get going, I didn’t even wait for the food to heat up properly.
I wolfed down the lukewarm “feast,” washed it down with a glass of milk, and headed out the door again, vowing to myself a bag of chips from the local chipper would better fill the gap at the next opportunity.
All was right with the world until I woke up in the middle of the night in a sweat. My stomach was growling and I knew the next 24 hours would be ones I would not soon forget. I’ll spare everyone the intricacies of my illness, but let’s just say I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
Me and the downstairs bathroom became best buds and when the worst was over I didn’t even have the energy to get up from the couch I was curled up on being attended to by my wife/nurse.
A few days later, I was still a shadow of myself and when I was called to a seven-month-old Friesian heifer just before nightfall, my empathy ran high.
The heifer was a bit upset that morning, according to the farmer, but she went to the manger to eat anyway, even if she was half-hearted. When the farmer returned that evening to examine her again, he found that she could not get up.
He carried her into the shed and when I saw her she was lying on a deep bed of straw and couldn’t even raise her head. She was cold and very dehydrated. When I checked her temperature, she passed almost transparent excretions except for bloodstains. This heifer was in dire straits.
I treated her with antibiotics and some pain relief for the obvious discomfort. I sewed in a catheter and connected it to a large bag of fluids. My own recent “illness” came to mind, and I lamented that an IV would have made my recovery that much faster.
We left the heifer on IV overnight, wrapped in deep straw with a red lamp over her head. I took a sample of the horrible looking discharge back to our clinic, where I set about analyzing it with a new piece of equipment we recently purchased – an internal fecal analysis system.
With this kit, we can now examine fecal samples for worms and coccidiosis in our veterinary practice. The real beauty of it is the quick turnaround. In clinical cases like this, we can return the results in less than an hour. It really helps with decision making and in the case of this particular heifer the results were very clear.
The extent of coccidiosis in this calf was off the chart. Not only does the machine display readings, but I was able to look at photos of the microscope images it took – coccidia are clearly visible in every image.
I called the farmer back to share the results and we made a plan to treat the rest of the group with a coccidiostat and monitor the group very closely over the coming days. Unfortunately, the calf that we put on an IV did not come through.
We then decided to also offer the calves some hay in the paddock. The weed at the moment, although relatively well cared for, is very watery and low in fiber. This can be particularly taxing on calves’ digestive systems and providing a good source of fiber makes a world of difference to slow the passage of feed through the system.
Not only does this help prevent diarrhea, but by slowing down the transit time through the gut, it allows for better absorption of nutrients and minerals, helping the calf to thrive.
Another call that same day was to an animal for which I felt just as much compassion. A dairy cow was ‘slow’ at morning milking. She had a slightly swollen quarter but no trace of mastitis in the milk. The farmer had rubbed some cream on the affected quarter and would consider treating in the evening if no improvement was seen.
By the evening milking, however, things had deteriorated considerably. It had taken the cow forever to get from the paddock nearby to the assembly point, where she lay down and refused to get up. When I arrived, she duly stood up.
I find that happens a lot and sometimes I wonder if the cow can sense that the man who just appeared is almost certainly going to inject a sharp needle into her. We slowly brought the cow to a nearby calving pen.
She walked so slowly and clumsily that I could put my hand on her back and it was startling how cold she felt. A full examination revealed that her heart rate was faster than normal and the lining of her gums and vagina were very pale.
I was pretty sure what the cause of her illness was and it was confirmed when I used a gloved hand to do a rectal exam. Her stool was black, sticky as tar, and stank terribly.
This cow had a stomach ulcer. The black poop is caused by blood from the stomach ulcer being digested in the intestine. It is always a direct indicator that a cow has an ulcer.
The farmer has strewn the pen with straw because this cow would need a few days of snuggling. I treated her with antibiotics to ward off any bacteria in the bloodstream. We used the gastric pump to pump warm liquids into the cow’s stomach in hopes of not only warming her but also hydrating her.
She was eager to chew some nice, fresh silage, so we decided to keep a close eye on her. The next course of action if she continued to go down was antacid medication and as a last resort we discussed a blood transfusion. Luckily the cow started to improve over the next 12 hours.
Cow ulcers are very unpredictable. It’s hard to tell which cows will recover and which won’t. Finally, if an ulcer continues to bleed, the cow will not survive no matter what treatment you use. It is often a matter of making the cow comfortable and giving supportive care in the hope that the bleeding will stop.
Again, adding fiber to the diet can prevent this condition from developing, especially if you graze at this time of year. If ever there was a week when I know it matters what you eat, this is it.
Eamon O’Connell is a Veterinarian at Summerhill Vet Clinic, Nenagh, Co. Tipperary.
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/comment/eamon-oconnell-adding-fibre-to-your-herds-diet-can-be-the-difference-between-life-and-death-42071634.html Eamon O’Connell: Adding fiber to your herd’s diet can be the difference between life and death