We recently made a video on a standard bovine cesarean section and have had an overwhelming response to it!
If you haven’t seen it already, check it out at Prairie View Vet Clinic on Facebook. Because this video has so many views and has reached people from across the world, we have gotten quite a few good questions about C-sections in cattle. Here are a few answers to those questions:
Why would a cow need a C-section?
Cattle may need a C-section for many reasons. First, it may be a cow-heifer problem. If the dam does not have a big enough birth canal, the baby may not be able to pass through. This may be due to genetics or the heifer being too immature to have been bred.
The pelvis may even be malformed or have healed from a pelvic fracture resulting in abnormal conformation. Some cows and show heifers that are over conditioned may also have difficulty birthing (dystocia) due to fat deposition in the pelvis.
Sometimes it may be a calf problem. If the calf has not signaled to the cow that it is ready to be born, her cervix may not dilate properly. If the calf is dead, it may not trigger parturition (to give birth) either.
Sometimes the calf is simply too big and bulky. This happens more with embryo transfer, in-vitro fertilization, and cloned calves than it does in commercial operations.
The calf may not be in the right birthing position and this position may not be correctable. Sometimes calves are born with congenital abnormalities such as being inside-out or having two heads.
These along with many other factors may cause a veterinarian to choose to do a C-section.
When would a cow not be a surgical candidate?
We do not perform C-sections on cows that have had a dead calf in their uterus for a period of time. This increases surgical risk. Calves that have been dead for a while must be pulled using a calf jack or removed via fetotomy (cutting the dead calf into several pieces) and removed vaginally.
What is the prognosis for the cow?
Cows typically do well after their C-section. With improvements in technique and the ability to be more sterile than in the past, we lose very few cows.
Can the cow breed back and give birth naturally?
Yes and yes! Although conception rates theoretically could be lower, many of our producers do retain cows in their herd that have had a C-section due to no fault of their own.
If the cow was the problem, then she will be sold and not bred back. They can have a natural birth but if necessary, could have another C-section. In the event that a cow had to have two c-sections, most producers will sell her.
Why do you cut the calf out of the cow’s side?
Cows are difficult to anesthetize safely. They have a very large rumen and a very small lung field. If we had to put them under general anesthesia to complete the surgery on their underside (like a human C-section is performed), there would be a very high anesthetic risk due to hypoxemia (low blood oxygen levels) as well as risk to the unborn calf from the hypoxemia.
The surgical site may not heal as well because cattle are a species that lay down a lot and have hundreds of pounds of abdominal contents that would be sitting on top of the incision.
Along with other reasons, we have chosen the paralumbar approach. Cattle have only 13 ribs, leaving us plenty of room to pull a calf out from the side as compared to a horse that has 17 ribs in which there is not enough room to pull a foal out from the side typically.
They heal well with this approach, and it can be done safely with local anesthetics.
Have more questions?
Call us at Prairie View Vet any time at 605-853-0008.
Eric Knock, DVM, owns and operates Prairie View Vet Clinic in Miller, Redfield and Highmore, S.D.