By Dan Goehl
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Prolapses are an inevitable part of spring. They can happen during any month of the year but in general spring is when we see the majority of cases. There are basically three types of prolapses that we deal with--rectal, vaginal and uterine. It is important to understand the differences between them to evaluate the urgency of the situation and the longevity of keeping the animal in the herd.
Rectal prolapse is usually seen in young, yearling age animals although it can be secondary to a vaginal prolapse. Often these are the result of young bulls riding one another. A rectal prolapse if identified early is rarely life threatening. These are not “emergencies” but need to be tended to within hours of diagnosis. The general process involves giving the animal an epidural to numb the area. This is done by inserting a small amount of a drug called lidocaine in the space between the last movable vertebrae. After this takes affect the prolapse is replaced.
To understand the mechanics of replacing a prolapse think of a sock turned inside out. All three prolapses are similar in principle and must be completely inverted back to their original position; just as you would a sock being turned inside out before putting it on. I then place a purse string suture which encircles the rectum to keep the prolapse from reoccurring. When rectal prolapses are left unattended too long they become necrotic, meaning the flesh begins to die, and become much more difficult to rectify. Often this tissue will have to be amputated.
Vaginal prolapses occur most often due to relaxation of ligaments prior to or post calving. The tissue that is seen is either the vaginal cavity or the cervix. These are also not life threatening if addressed early. The downside is that a cow with a vaginal prolapse will likely have one again the following year. There are varying techniques employed to fix these depending on the stage of pregnancy and personal preference. Often a stitch is placed similar to a rectal prolapse but it has to be removed from a pregnant cow before she can give birth.
It is important to be able to distinguish between a vaginal and uterine prolapse. A uterine prolapse is a life threatening event and needs to be addressed as quickly as possible. Uterine prolapses occur immediately post calving and can be distinguished by a huge mass of tissue that has knots on it about the size of a small child’s hand. These are cotyledons that connect to the placenta and pass nourishment to the fetus during pregnancy. Due to the fact that the fetus resides in the uterus it is impossible to have a uterine prolapse in a pregnant cow.
Although these are the most urgent of the three types of prolapse we have discussed, they have the best long-term prognosis. The immediate danger is from bleeding due to rupture of the uterine arteries. If the cow does not suffer severe blood loss or shock then her reproductive future should not be impaired.
Rectal, vaginal and uterine prolapses all require attention and warrant a call to your veterinarian. It is helpful to know the difference so you know the urgency of the situation. Good luck with spring calving!