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Treatment of Retained Placenta: Do No Harm

Dairy Pipeline: September 1998

Tom L. Bailey
Dairy Production Medicine
Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine
Virginia Tech
(540) 231-3936, email:

Treatment of retained placenta in dairy cattle comes under the heading of "first of all do no harm when initiating therapy." Simple retained placenta, those cattle not demonstrating clinical signs of an elevated temperature or fever, off feed, down in milk, or no foul odor in the fluid discharge from the uterus should be handled as conservatively as possible. Research has consistently shown that those animals with antibiotics "dumped" into the uterus will have delayed uterine involution, increased days to first service, increased number of services per pregnancy and increased days open. Metritis and pyometra are more common occurrences in those cows that are indiscriminately treated with antibiotics in the uterus. Some beneficial bacteria may actually aid in the "uncoupling" of the placenta and antibiotics will eliminate these bacteria as well. Antibiotics in the uterus also decrease the migration of white blood cells that help fight infection in the uterus. One hundred cc's of an antibiotic or a few ounces of a powder placed in a 20-gallon volume uterus is diluted; it is not going to be beneficial. "Cleaning" a cow or "pulling" the retained placenta can result in the ripping of the lining of the uterus with permanent damage, leading to infertility. Cattle with retained placenta should be monitored closely. Your best tool is your thermometer, observation of the cow in the parlor, and at the feed bunk. If greater than 7% of the calving population is experiencing retained placenta, an investigation with your veterinarian should be conducted to find the source or cause of the retention. A high incidence of retained placenta is typically the result of something gone wrong with management. Find the source of the problem, don't just treat the result. Our therapy usually consists of prostaglandins for 3 days beginning 24 hours after calving and a tube of calcium gel. Research on cows with retained placenta has shown below normal calcium levels in the blood stream. Your herd veterinarian should examine cows experiencing an elevated temperature, off feed, or down in milk. Remember all retained placentas do not result in metritis and all metritis is not the result of retained placenta. Elimination of the cause is the key.

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