Down Cow Syndrome

These information sheets are provided for your interest. They should not replace veterinary advice from your veterinary surgeon.

Whilst every effort is taken to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information provided, your specific circumstances must be discussed before advice can be given.

The downer cow is a common presentation of a sick cow to the vet. The possible causes are many, and it can be a confusing diagnostic and prognostic task in order to give the correct treatment. The cow will have become recumbent for a reason - this is a primary downer cow. The primary causes of recumbency can be divided into 4 categories, and remembered with the mnemonic MINT:

  • Metabolic
    • hypocalcaemia
    • hypokalaemia
    • nutritional acidosis
    • ketosis
    • fatty liver disease
  • Inflammatory
    • Acute septic metritis
    • Acute mastitis
    • Acute peritonitis (eg. traumatic reticulitis/ruptured uterus)
  • Neurological
    • Obturator, sciatic or femoral nerve paralysis (eg calving paralysis is damage to L5/L6 outflow of obturator and sciatic)
  • Traumatic
    • fractured femur
    • dislocated hip
    • muscle, tendon or ligament rupture

The cow may be remaining recumbent for a different reason to why it became recumbent in the first place - this is a secondary downer cow. Many of the syndromes in secondary downer cows are avoidable, with careful nursing care of the down cow. There are a number of different processes in the progression to secondary downer cow:

  • Compartment syndrome - mechanical constriction of the venous draining leads to ischaemic muscle and nerve necrosis.
  • Crush syndrome - muscle breakdown releases myoglobin, which can cause renal failure, and potassium which can cause heart failure.
  • Pressure neuropathy - pressure damages the peroneal/sciatic nerves
  • Muscle/tendon rupture - eg gastrocnemius.