Bovis ISSN 2398-2993

Alimentary tract: clinical examination

Synonym(s): GIT, gastro-intestinal tract

Contributor(s): Virginia Sherwin , John Tulloch

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Introduction

  • It is essential that cattle vets can perform a detailed examination of the alimentary tract.
  • A thorough examination can pinpoint problems and minimize the necessity for additional diagnostics – saving time and money.
  • The following article suggests an approach to examination of the bovine alimentary tract.

Examine the cow from a distance:

Posture

  • Abnormal posture can give an indication of painful conditions. 
  • An arched back and abducted elbows is often seen with peritonitis.

Cudding

  • Cudding is a reflex action that takes place in the intervals between eating and is used to remasticate food in order to increase the surface area available to rumen microbes for digestion.
  • Normally a cow will spend on average 6 hours per day cudding, with approximately 60 chews per chud, depending upon her diet.
  • A lack of cudding can be related to stress but also pain, obstruction of the esophagus and dysfunction of the neurological control mechanisms of the reflex.
  • Quidding is when a cow drops a ball of food from her mouth whilst cudding and is often associated with acidosis or dysphagia.

Signs of pain

  • Colic is defined as visceral abdominal pain and can be related to the gastrointestinal tract. It is commonly caused by either distension of the gut, mesenteric torsion, ischemia or infarction, deep ulcers or peritoneal pain. It is usually manifests as bruxism (see below), grunting, hind leg treading, kicking at the abdomen, restlessness and anorexia.
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding) can be an indication of abdominal pain.

Condition score

  • Body condition score can give an indication of longer term problems and potentially suggest a nutritional problem or a primary problem which has resulted in a decreased dry matter intake. Body condition scoring

General clinical examination

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Examination of the rumen

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Auscultation for abnormalities of the abomasum

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Auxiliary tests

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Rectal examination and feces

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Video demonstration

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed Papers

Other sources of information

  • Terra R & Reynolds J (2015) Chapter 1: Ruminant history, physical examination, welfare assessment and records. In: Large Animal Internal Medicine. 5th edn. 
  • Fubini S & Divers T (2008) Chapter 5: Noninfectious diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. In: Rebhun’s Diseases of Dairy Cattle. 2nd edn. pp 130-199.
  • Jackson P & Cockcroft P (2002) Clinical examination of farm animals. Blackwell publishing.


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