Agroceryosis, The Lack of Groceries

D. E. Larsen, DVM

“What do you think, Doc,” Al asked as we stood at the fence watching a skinny cow in the corral.

“It doesn’t look like she has any diarrhea. When did you deworm last?”

“I gave her some pills I got at the feed store a couple of weeks ago,” Al said.

This was my first visit to Al’s place. Al in his 50s and dressed like he just stepped out of his office. My guess was he is a hobby farmer, probably a retired police officer out of California. I was a little surprised he had wormed the cow.

“Is she nursing a calf?” I asked.

“Yes, and the calf isn’t doing really well either,” Al said.

“Let’s get her in a chute, and I will get a look at her,” I said.

“A chute, what do you mean by a chute?” Al asked.

This was going to be a bigger problem than I expected. This guy doesn’t know anything.”

“I guess I better grab my rope,” I said. “Are these posts strong enough to hold her?”

“I think so. They were here when I bought the place last summer. I bought this cow then also. She looked good when I bought her. She calved with no problem. Now she is skin and bones.”

I threw the lasso over her horns and took a couple of wraps on the corner post. She wasn’t wild, and I quickly pulled her up the post and tied her close.

“What are you feeding her, Al,” I asked?

“My pasture is dry as a bone now, but she gets all the hay she can eat.”

I examined the old cow. She looked fine, except she was skin and bones. Her udder was mostly empty, but the milk I stripped out looked fine. I collected blood and fecal samples.

“Al, what you call hay, in the feed rack there, is straw,” I said as I turned the cow loose and crawled back across the fence. “I will look at these samples when I get back to the office. But her problem is Agroceryosis.”

“Agroceryosis, I have never heard of that. It sounds serious,” Al said.

“It is serious, Al. If it is not corrected, it will surely kill her,” I said. “What it means is there is a lack of groceries. That straw you are feeding doesn’t have much in it. We need to have a little discussion on basic nutrition.”

“That’s why I called you. I need to learn all I can,” Al said.

“How many cows do you have,” I asked?

“She is my whole herd, her and her calf,” Al said. “I figured I needed to learn with small numbers before getting a bunch.”

“That was probably the best decision you could have made. We have a couple of months to get her ready for winter. Otherwise, I would have been out here on an emergency call when she was down and dying at the first snowfall.”

“You sound pretty sure that is what would happen to her,” Al said.

“Every year that I have been here, the first snow brings a rash of calls. Usually, it is a horse and a couple of cows. They all look the same. And they have inadequate shelter, no fat on their bones, not a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving the night. The thing I have never been able to figure out is how the owners can figure out they are going to die tonight but can’t figure out they need to feed them a little.”

“Well, I could at least recognize that she needs something,” Al said.

“Without getting out the nutrition books, you can probably understand that the cow has basic needs that need to be met. She needs protein, and she needs an energy source. Sometimes you can meet all those needs in good grass hay. That hay might contain 8% protein. This straw probably has less than 2% protein. She can’t eat enough to meet her protein requirement. They say she is bulk limited. It is sort of like you would be trying to live on lettuce.”

“So I need to go shopping for hay,” Al said.

“This cow is going to need more than just grass hay. She has to make up some ground before winter. And her milk production requires a lot of energy. That is one reason she is so thin.  She has put all of her fat reserves into producing milk for her calf.”

“So I need some grain also,” Al said.

“Yes, you probably need some good grass hay, maybe a bale or two of alfalfa and a couple of bags of grain,” I said.

“You think that will do it,” Al asked?

“That and a mineral block. Then you have to change her ration slowly. You can change to the grass hay with no problem. But you need to get her on that first, then add a small amount of alfalfa and a little grain.”

What do you mean by a small amount and a little grain,” Al asked?

“You get her on good grass hay for a week, then start giving her a couple of cups of grain once a day. The third week, give her half of a flake of alfalfa on top of her grass hay. I will drop by sometime during that third week and just eyeball her. We should be able to see a change by then.”

“What about those samples,” Al asked?

“I will give you a call tomorrow. If you wormed her, I don’t think we will see much in the samples.”

“Okay, I will expect to see you in a few weeks,” Al said.

“Does she have access to the barn,” I asked?

“Yes, but she doesn’t seem to want to use it much.”

“She will when winter gets here. You can take this straw and use it to bed down a stall space for her and her calf. You might be surprised at how she reacts when she has a bedded stall.”

Several weeks later, I pulled onto Al’s place as I was returning from a call out at Crawfordsville. I waved at Al as he was pulling on his boots on the porch. I stopped out by the barn.

“Doc, she is a completely different cow,” Al said. “I am embarrassed now that I almost starved her to death.”

The cow and her calf were bedded down in the straw in the barn. They were both chewing their cuds and paid no attention to us.

“The calf never used to eat when I was feeding them straw, but now he bellies up to the feed rack and fights for position with his mother,” Al said.

I could still see ribs on the cow, but they were covered with a layer of fat already. Her hip bones looked smoother now also.

“It looks to me like she will be fine. I would start giving her a full flake of alfalfa and give her some gain twice a day. When she starts to look like your neighbor’s cows, you can slow down on the alfalfa and grain.”

“You think she will be okay for this winter,” Al asked?

“I think she is going to be okay. Before you go out and buy the rest of the herd, you need to drop by the office, and we can go over nutrition in a little more detail. And we can discuss a vaccination and parasite control program that will work well for a small herd.”

“Isn’t it funny, I remember cows on my Grandfather’s farm, and I had no idea what kind of work and knowledge went into raising them.”

“Those grandfathers didn’t need a book. They just knew the cows. They made it look easy,” I said.

“Thanks again, Doc. And I will remember to drop by the clinic before I get the rest of my herd.”

Photo by Mohau Mannathoko on Unsplash

Over-sized and Pocket-sized, A Spay is a Spay

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I pushed my left arm deeper into the birth canal of the young heifer, sweeping my hand left to right, trying to decide as to what was wrong here. 

Then I encountered intestines, this was not good. They were too large to be from the calf. This uterus was ruptured. I shoved my arm up to my shoulder. Finally, there was the calf. The calf was in a breech position. I stuck my finger into its rectum. A contraction, this calf was still alive.

I pulled my arm out and washed. “Sue, someone must have tried to pull this calf,” I said.

“Yes, my son Joe was here a bit ago, and he tried to work on it but said that he couldn’t get anywhere.”

“This heifer has a ruptured uterus. The calf is still alive. If we do a C-section, I can save the calf. I don’t know if I can fix the uterus or not.”

“Okay, do what you can,” Sue said. “This is Sam’s favorite heifer. She is kind of small, but he treats her like a pet. I hope you can save her also.”

The heifer was lying on her left side. This was probably good. A right flank incision might give me the best access to repair the uterus.

For me, c-sections on cows were a chore. But most of the work was closing things up. This one would depend on what kind of damage had been done to this uterus.

We clipped and prepped the right flank, and I did an inverted L block with Lidocaine. It did not take long, and we had the calf out, and she was shaking her head as she looked around at her surroundings in this small barn.

The uterus was mostly torn off the cervix. It was held by a narrow strip of tissue. There was no way to repair this.

“Sue, this uterus is almost completely amputated from the cervix. I don’t think that I can repair it,” I said.

“You spay dogs and cats all the time. Can you just remove it,” Sue asked?

The question stunned me for a moment. I looked at the torn mass of uterus and pondered the situation. 

The largest dog has a uterus with a diameter less than my index finger. By comparison, this was a massive uterus. But it was worth a try. Otherwise, we shoot the heifer. If the surgery doesn’t work, at least we tried before shooting the heifer.

“I hadn’t given that any thought, Sue,” I said. “I guess it is worth a try.”

I had difficulty reaching the left ovary. With that problem solved, I placed a transfixed ligature on each ovarian pedicle. After severing the pedicles above the ovaries, I hung the uterus out of the incision. Severing the remaining attachment at the cervix was no problem. I placed a couple of stay sutures in the cervix to keep it close to the incision when I removed the uterus.

With a good twenty pounds of uterus laying in the straw, now all I needed was to close the cervix and ligate a couple of bleeding vessels. Then it was a standard closure of the external incisions. This probably all took less time than a typical c-section.

After giving the heifer some antibiotics and a Dexamethasone dose, I let her up to tend the calf.

“What do you think,” Sue asked?

“Ask me in the morning,” I said. “If she survives the night, I would guess we are good to go. But don’t expect her to have a calf next year.”

“Is she going to be able to raise this calf,” Sue asked?

“That should be no problem. The uterus and the ovaries are not necessary for milk production.”

“Mom and calf were doing well,” Sue said when she called the following morning. 

When I was out to take the sutures out of the heifer, the incision had healed well. The calf was bouncing around, happy to be in this land of the living. 

“When you sell her, make sure you are honest,” I said. “Some poor guy will go nuts trying to get her pregnant.”

“My guess is Sam will make a pet out of her. She will probably never leave the farm.”

It was not long after this event when Pat called. Pat was the elementary teacher with a bunch of classroom pets. It had not been too long ago that I had repaired a fracture on a hamster’s leg for one of her pets.

“It’s Sally, Doc,” Pat said. “She has to be days overdue for delivering babies. And now she is not feeling well. The kids think she has a problem.”

“Tell me more about Sally,” I said.

“Sally is a mouse. They have a gestation for something like 20 days,” Pat said. “We have been watching for babies for over a week now. I am certain that she has to be 4 – 5 days overdue. I can get away for a few minutes shortly, can a drop her off for you to look over?”

“Does she bite,” I asked?

“Sally is the sweetest little mouse,” Pat said. “She loves to be petted and handled, and all the kids love her. That is why everyone is so upset.”

Sally was just as Pat described, sweet as could be. I rolled her onto her back and rubbed her belly in a manner that became palpation. Sure enough, Sally was pregnant with what felt like 8 babies. They were hard as marbles with no feeling of fluid in the uterus. These babies were dead.

I called and talked with Pat. 

“Pat, her babies are dead, and there is a bunch of them,” I said.

“What can we do,” Pat asked?

“If we don’t get them out of there, Sally is going to die,” I said. “She is already dehydrated. I think I should try to do a spay on her. If, by chance, there are any live babies, we could save them. But I don’t think there is anything alive in her uterus.”

“You do what you think is best. The kids and I trust your skills,” Pat said.

We gave Sally a dose of Ketamine for anesthesia and some subcutaneous fluids for her dehydration. I used a razor to shave her belly, and with a surgical prep completed, she was ready for surgery.

With her fur gone from her belly, you could see the lumps in the uterus through the belly wall. 

“I think I am going to need some magnification,” I said as I put on my loupes. “Things are going to be pretty small in there.”

I opened the abdomen and externalized the uterus, two horns of the uterus, one on each side, with 4 hard nodules in each horn, each about the peanut size. The babies were long dead, and all the fluid had been resorbed from the uterus.

The anatomy was the same as a dog or cat, just a lot smaller. I Iigated the ovarian vessels and the uterine body and removed the uterus with the dead babies.  

Closing the abdomen required only a couple of sutures. Sally recovered slowly from the Ketamine, but she was up and eating when I checked her in the morning.

Pat and her class were happy with the results, and we were paid with twenty-some pages of hand-drawn pictures with thank you notes. 

The entire class brought Sally in for suture removal. Typical of classrooms that visited the clinic, some students struggled to be as close to the action as possible. Then some sought the comfort of the reception area.

Sally enjoyed the attention. And she managed to live a year or two longer than a mouse in the wild.

Photo by Colin Davis on Unsplash

Run for Your Life

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Joe always wanted Comet checked for one thing or the other. He was waiting for his turn in the exam room with Comet on his lap. Comet was a young Whippet. There was not an ounce of fat on his entire body. I could about define every muscle on him, just looking.

“What’s up with Comet today,” I asked as Joe placed him carefully on the exam table?

“I have been reading about heartworms, Doc,” Joe said. “I thought maybe I better have you check Comet and get him on some medication.”

“We have just completed a statewide heartworm survey,” I said. “One of the drug companies paid for it. Most of the clinics in the state collected blood samples from 100 dogs. They ran all those samples, and they say we have about a two percent incidence of heartworms in native Oregon dogs.” 

“That doesn’t sound like it is too serious,” Joe said. 

“Not too serious at this point, but they claim that is pretty standard for how heartworms invade an area. It will be in low numbers for several years, and then all of a sudden, it is a major problem.”

“Well, even if it is a low-risk thing, I think I want to get Comet on some medication,” Joe said. “You know how I am about him. He means as much to me as any of the kids.”

“I know, Joe, you have him with you all the time,” I said. “The kids come and go.”

“Now, don’t you tell my wife that I said that. She would be upset with me,” Joe said.

“Let me get a blood sample from Comet, and we will see if we can get him on some medication,” I said. “This new drug, Ivomectin, is a little bit of a problem with Greyhounds and Whippets. But the dose used for heartworm prevention is low enough that it is not an issue.”

“Whatever you think, Doc,” Joe said. 

“The risk of the medication causing a problem is very small, Joe. But then, the risk of infection is also minimal. At this point, where you live out on a hillside with few neighbors, I think it is your call.”

“That hillside is one of my concerns,” Joe said. “We are getting into quite a coyote problem. They are getting so brave that they come right down into the yard and bother Comet. I don’t him catching anything from them.”

Comet tested negative for heartworms, and we started him on a new preventative medication. 

“You give him one of these tablets once a month,” I said. “Try to give it on the same day of the month, but you have a few days leeway if you forget.”

It was several months later when Joe returned to the clinic. He was distraught, and his body odor told that he had not bathed in several days.

“Doc, Comet is gone,” Joe said as he leaned hard on the counter, tears welled up in his eyes. “Those coyotes ate him, I am sure.”

“What happened,” I asked?

“Three of those damn coyotes came into the yard and started to attack Comet. Before I could do anything, Comet took off like a shot. You know those Whippets can run. The coyotes were right on his tail.”

“I doubt that those coyotes could catch Comet. I know of ranchers in Colorado who keep Greyhounds to hunt coyotes. Those Greyhounds just run them down.”

“Maybe a half-hour after they left the yard, the whole pack of coyotes were yipping up a storm. I am sure they got him. And he hasn’t been home, and that was four days ago. I don’t know what I am going to do without him.”

“Joe, you need to go home and take care of yourself. Take a shower and get cleaned up. Maybe have the kids help you build a little memorial in the yard of Comet. Then go out for a good dinner. Comet would want you to have a normal life.”

“Yes, you are probably right, Doc,” Joe said. “I brought this package of pills back. I only used a few, and maybe you can give them to someone who doesn’t have the money to afford them.”

“We are not supposed to do that, but we keep a few things in the cabinet, just for such a client.”

“That poor man,” Sandy said after Joe left. “That dog was his whole life.”

“He will be okay,” I said. “It will just take a little time and some diversion.”

It was only a few days later when Joe exploded through the door. Exuberant, he had a smile from ear to ear. He had combed his hair, and he was well dressed.

“Doc, I want to thank you for your advice,” Joe said.

“You look happy,” I said.

“Let me tell you the story,” Joe said. “I went home the other day and tried to take your advice, but I couldn’t get myself up to it. I laid around another couple of days. Finally, I looked at the yard, and boy, it needed to be mowed. So I went out and started the lawnmower, mowed the yard, and then I took the boys down to Hoy’s Hardware to buy stuff for a memorial. And what do you know, when we got home, there was Comet, sitting in the middle of the driveway, waiting for us. I was so happy. I almost ran the pickup into the house.”

“That is great news,” I said. “I bet that Comet ran so fast and so far that he didn’t know the way home. When you started the lawnmower, you probably gave him some bearings on how to get home. I didn’t think a coyote could catch him.”

“You are probably correct,” Joe said. “This time of the year, I mow the lawn at least once a week, maybe twice, if I get bored. So Comet would know the sound for sure.”

“I would give you those pills back, but I gave them to an old guy this morning,” I said with a smile on my face.

“That’s okay. I will gladly buy some more,” Joe said.

“No,” I laughed. “I will grab them for you. I was pulling your leg a little.”

Photo by Mitchell Orr on Unsplash

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