Udder Edema in Dairy Cattle

Udder edema can be a major discomfort to the cattle and causes management problems such as difficulty with milking and may also reduce milk production.

Udder edema is generally a periparturient disorder characterized by excessive accumulation of fl uids in the intercellular tissue spaces of the mammary gland. Incidence and severity are greater in pregnant heifers than in cows. Udder edema can be a major discomfort to the buffalo and cow and causes management problems such as difficulty with milking, increased risk for teat and udder injuries, and mastitis, and may also reduce milk production. Congestion as well as mild edema of the udder is normal due to various physiological reasons in first calf heifers and second or later lactation cows. With an abnormal swelling it may predispose to problems with colostrum intake of the calf and with the milk let down reflex. The teats shorten and strut outward, making it more difficult to keep the milking machine in place predisposing to mastitis and damage of the suspensory ligament of the udder with premature culling of the cow.

The condition results when there is an excessive accumulation of fluid between secretory cells within the udder. This causes swelling (edema) to occur and it often extends forward under the skin in front of the udder. The exact cause is not known but it develops primarily because of an impaired blood and lymph circulation from the lower abdomen because of fetal pressure in the pelvic area. It may also be partially related to the sharp drop in blood serum proteins that occurs near calving time. This drop is closely associated with the transfer of gamma globulin’s (antibodies) to colostrum and it is usually more severe in animals calving for the first time than in subsequent lactation’s.

If udder edema is a herd problem (more than 2% of cows and 5% in heifers) other factors like overfeeding of grain prepartum or overfeeding of sodium and potassium prepartum may also play a role especially where heifers are involved. Legume or mixed, mainly legume forages should be limited to not more than 30 to 50 percent of forage dry matter intake by dry cows. Heavy feeding of these forages may result in excessive protein, calcium and potassium intakes. Soy cakes (a by-product of the production of soy sauce) contains 8-10% salt. This limits their use especially in the dry cow ration. No additional salt is needed in the diet when soy cakes are fed at their upper limit. When you must however make use of soy cakes, I would suggest that the sodium level of the dry cow ration should be monitored on a regular basis.

Udder edema is frequently seen in primiparous cows. This could be due to the immaturity in the vascular structure of the udder being more vulnerable to fluid retention. Heredity also may play a part increasing the susceptibility of the cow to udder edema. Udder edema does not seem to be caused by just one factor but rather a combination of factors; genetic predisposition, management and nutrition, large foetus size, heavy concentrate feeding and incomplete developed mammary vein may be responsible for severe udder edema in the buffaloes and cows. Prevention through proper nutrition is the easiest route, but treatment is successful in controlling this condition.

The reasons for udder edema aren’t entirely certain. It is more prevalent in first-calf heifers, possibly because they have less vascular development. The tendency of some cows to get udder edema may be inherited. Udder edema has been related to feeding high amounts of energy, sodium, or potassium. Generally, it is recommended that sodium (Na) stay below 0.15% of the diet and potassium (K) below 1.4% of the diet during the last three weeks before calving to avoid udder edema. University of Tennessee researchers suggest that “oxidative stress” may be a cause of udder edema. Even though oxygen is essential for life, the cow needs to metabolize it and get rid of it otherwise it can be toxic. When metabolism increases, such as for milk production, more free oxygen may end up in the udder. Oxygen reacts with mycotoxins in the feed, products from heat-damaged feed, and excessive iron and molybdenum. These are all called pro-oxidants. Products from these chemical reactions damage cell membranes, causing udder edema. The reactivity of iron is more likely during times of stress, like at calving. Zinc, copper, manganese, magnesium, Vitamin E, and selenium all help to reduce these oxidative reactions. These nutrients are either called anti-oxidants or are needed to make anti-oxidants. Adequate protein is also important. The goal is to provide enough anti-oxidants to adequately defend against pro-oxidants. University of Tennessee researchers recommend that the pre-fresh and post-fresh diet contain 0.3 ppm selenium (the legal limit), 20 ppm copper, 60 ppm each of zinc and manganese, and 0.25% magnesium, plus 1000 ppm Vitamin E. Oxidative stress is likely also a factor promoting retained placenta and mastitis.

Udder edema begins shortly before calving when blood fl ow increases to the udder in preparation for lactation. It is normal for most cows to experience some degree of udder edema before calving. Under normal conditions, the edema will clear from the udder within a week or two post calving. Physiologically, a developing calf can restrict the fl ow of blood and lymph away from the udder while at the same time metabolic changes, especially hormonal fluctuations, cause an increased blood supply to the area. This combination can lead to the excessive pooling of fl uid (Merck’s Veterinary Manual). The clinical manifestation recorded in the present study agree with those reported by Sharma et al. (2005). Dentine and McDaniel (1983) also observed that udder edema is more severe in heifers than cows.

Therapeutic Management

Treatment & Prevention-

The treatment with diuretics, antihistaminic and anti-inflammatory is help in draining out excessive accumulation of interstitial fluid, reducing histamine release and reducing swelling of udder and relieving pain respectively. Treatment includes massages and hot compresses on the affected areas. This stimulates blood fl ow, which aids in the removal of the excess fluid. Factors like prepartum heavy grain feeding to heifers and high sodium and potassium intake in housed cattle might be predisposing factors for the udder edema. Malven et al. (1983) concluded that prepartum edema was positive for plasma estrone and estradiole-17a and was negative for estradiole 17b and progesterone. Udder edema is frequently seen in primiparous cows. This could be due to the immaturity in the vascular structure of the udder being more vulnerable to fl uid retention. Heredity also may play a part increasing the susceptibility of the cow to udder edema (Merck’s Veterinary Manual). Udder edema does not seem to be caused by just one factor but rather a combination of factors; genetic predisposition, management and nutrition, large foetus size, heavy concentrate feeding and incomplete developed mammary vein may be responsible for severe udder edema in the buffaloes and cows. Prevention through proper nutrition is the easiest route, but treatment is successful in controlling this condition.

Several procedures may prove helpful in the treatment of udder edema. This includes massaging the udder in an upward direction for 10-20 minutes twice a day after milking so as to promote circulation of fluids, udder supports for cows with poorly attached udders, and moderate exercise which helps stimulate lymph circulation. Drugs such as diuretics can be used to speed up the removal of water from the body. Corticosteroids is another drug that can be utilized, but only with extreme caution and under the direction of a veterinarian, due to the potency and other resulting complications.

The best prevention is to avoid excess salt during the dry period and to keep a close check on feeding programs of bred heifers and dry cows. Providing moderate exercise along with good care at calving helps reduce edema. In addition, prevent chilling and bruising of udders and milk out problem-cows before calving. Anionic salts in the prepartum diet will also help to prevent udder edema in a way because of the diuretic effect of the anionic salts. We also prescribe anti-inflammatory herbal spray like wisprec, healent, popin etc supported by serasiopeptidase combination tab orally and get good result in 3-5 days.

Several procedures may prove helpful in the treatment of udder edema. This includes massaging the udder in an upward direction for 10-20 minutes twice a day after milking so as to promote circulation of fluids, udder supports for cows with poorly attached udders, and moderate exercise which helps stimulate lymph circulation. Drugs such as diuretics can be used to speed up the removal of water from the body. Corticosteroids is another drug that can be utilized, but only with extreme caution and under the direction of a veterinarian, due to the potency and other resulting complications.

The best prevention is to avoid excess salt during the dry period and to keep a close check on feeding programs of bred heifers and dry cows. Providing moderate exercise along with good care at calving helps reduce edema. In addition, prevent chilling and bruising of udders and milk out problem-cows before calving. Anionic salts in the prepartum diet will also help to prevent udder edema in a way because of the diuretic effect of the anionic salts

Herbal Treatment-

a) Inject Vitamins: B-6, B-12
b) Diuretic Herbs: dandelion leaf/root, celery seed, juniper berries, gravel root, cleavers
c) Massage udder with “hot” linament (camphor, peppermint, capsicum, etc)
d) 1 pint of strong coffee

Homeopathic Treatment:

  1. Camphor Q: 5 drops in a cup of water three time a day for one or two days.
  2. Apis mel 200
  3. Nat. mur 200
  4. Dose: B.I.D. for 1- 2 days
  5. Nat sulph 200
  6. Dose: Q.I.D for 2-3 days

Post parturient udder edema

The animals showing signs of post-partum edematous swelling are milked thrice a day and treated with diuretics (Frusemide) 1-2 mg/kg of body weight i/m, an antihistaminic (Chlorpheniramine maleate) 10 ml i/m and an anti-inflammatory (Ketoprofen) 3 mg/kg of body weight i/m. In case of extensive edematous swelling at the navel is additionally given Inj. Vit. B-Complex with liver extract 10 ml and hot fomentation of udder.

Pre-partum udder edema

The animals with severe edematous udder swelling are milked by few striping twice a day to reduce the teat and udder tension. All the affected buffaloes and cows are treated the same as in postpartum udder edema.

Dr. Rajesh Kumar Singh

Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, India
Mob No: 9431309542
Email ID: [email protected]

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