Saturday, July 5, 2014

Modern veterinary care for cattle

Daphne caught a stomach bug a couple weeks ago and ended up spending the night in the hospital.

After a couple days of diarrhea, vomiting and no appetite, her little body got dehydrated. By the third morning, she was so run down that after I changed her diaper and snapped her onesie, she didn't get up – she just rolled onto her side and went to sleep – on a towel on the bathroom floor. At our second visit to the clinic, her doctor suggested admission to the hospital for IV fluids and further observation.

I've seen how fast IV fluids can help dehydrated cows and calves feel better, so the doctor's advice made sense to me. We went from the clinic over to the hospital and the nurses started the IV. Except for the needle poke, Daphne handled everything very well.

Daphne's doctor ordered every lab test possible to try to identify the virus or bacteria that caused her illness, but the tests all came back negative. That meant her illness was likely caused by a virus and that she didn't need any antibiotics to fight the infection.

Daphne is 100% back to normal now. Her attitude returned a couple hours after her IV was finished. Her appetite came back the next day. She had a follow-up appointment this week and the scale at the clinic said she regained all the weight she lost while she was sick.

I had LOTS of time to think while sitting with Daphne in the hospital.

After wondering for awhile about who decided to try the first IV and whether it given to a human or an animal, I got to thinking about all the ways that modern veterinary care for cattle is similar to medical care for humans. Not the most logical thought progression, I know, but my brain is random like that.

I came up with these similarities between veterinary care and medical care:

• Veterinarians require as much schooling and training as medical doctors.

• Our farm has 24/7 access to veterinary care. If we have an emergency in the middle of the night, we call our vet clinic and one of the vets comes out.

• Most of the veterinary care we provide for our cows is health maintenance and preventative care.

• Vaccines are an important part of preventative care on dairy farms. Our vet helps us determine which vaccines are best for our herd and when they should be given.

• If a cow or calf does get sick, we work with our veterinarian to diagnose and treat the illness. We watch for a lot of the same things that parents watch for with their young children – mostly attitude, appetite, and other obvious symptoms. Like babies and toddlers, cows can't tell us what's wrong.

• Our first approach to treating illnesses is to provide supportive therapies (aspirin, fluids, electrolytes, and other nutritional supplements) to help the animal’s immune system overcome the ailment. Like with humans, a lot of bovine ailments are caused by viruses and can't be treated with antibiotics. But sometimes we, along with our vet, decide that antibiotics are necessary to help an animal get better.

• We can use blood tests to diagnose diseases and to find out if a cow is pregnant.

• Our vet also uses an ultrasound to tell us if a cow is pregnant, if she's having a single calf or twins, and if she's having a bull calf or a heifer calf.

• Calves can be delivered by Cesarean section.

• Vets can do surgery for other reasons, too. Most surgeries are done to correct a problem with a cow's stomach. But we did exploratory surgery once, on a cow named Panda, because after several exams and tests, we still couldn't figure out why she was having abdominal pain. (We knew it was her abdomen, because cows will kick at the belly when it hurts.)

• We do autopsies when a cow or calf dies for no apparent reason.

Some veterinary procedures have been around since the days of James Herriot and some weren't even available when I was a kid. So, while a lot has changed over the years, one thing hasn't: Just like parents want to do what's best for their kids, dairy farmers want do do what's best for their cattle.

Excellent medical care and excellent veterinary care make it easier for us to take good care of our kids and our cows.

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