Metritis in Cows – Examining The IMPACT of The Disease

What is the Impact of Metritis on Dairy Production? 

Metritis in cows is defined as inflammation of the uterus that is usually caused by a bacterial infection. Cows provide us with an enormous amount of benefits. For one, they’re super cute and like giant dogs. They also provide us with milk. When metritis strikes, it can cause a cow’s milk production to decrease by an average of 4.9 pounds per day. 

milking cows

How are Uterine Diseases Detected in a Herd of Cows?

Uterine diseases are detected in cows through tests and clinical signs. Clinical signs of metritis include:

  • Foul-smelling discharge from the vulva
  • Fever
  • Inappetance
  • Excess fluid in the uterus

Normal, healthy cows have a robust immune system. The uterus is a sterile environment, but the vagina is not. Therefore when bacteria from the vagina travel into the uterus, a normal healthy cow should have the proper immune system to fight it off. Cows that suffer from metritis have a weakened immune system that isn’t doing its job properly. 

Timing is everything when identifying metritis in your herd. Metritis usually occurs 14 days after calving. Alerting your staff on what to look for is a sure way to detect metritis. Cows are typically separated; therefore, staff will be able to determine “fresh” cows and be on the lookout for metritis. 

Recordings of temperatures, milk production, any discharge, and inappetence will also help diagnose the problem. Clinical signs alone do not often confirm a diagnosis of metritis. A thorough physical examination along with ultrasonography, cytology, or a biopsy will help confirm the diagnosis of metritis. 

The Causes of Metritis in Cows

Bacteria cause metritis! The culprit is usually a gram-negative anaerobic (free of oxygen) bacteria. Some include Escherichia coli, Trueperella pyogenes, and Fusobacterium necrophorum. 

When these bacteria enter the uterus (a normally sterile environment), they invade and take over. This will leave your cow feeling very sick.  They will often be lethargic, stressed, run a fever, and have little to no appetite. 

Preventative Management Practices

Preventative management is of utmost importance in the early detection of metritis. There should be protocols put into place that allow your staff to alert the farmer or herd veterinarian of any off signs. 

First off, your fresh (cows who just had calves) cows should be separated from the rest of the herd. Having your fresh cows separated from the herd will allow for better observation. Any signs of fever, abnormal discharge, inappetence, or extra fever should be recorded. 

young born calves

This will allow the farmer, staff, and herd veterinarian to follow trends and see if anything is amiss and provide early diagnosis. Another prevention measure would be to have your cows’ temperatures taken every day following calving for up to 14 days. However, fever is not the only sign of metritis, and it does not always occur.

Recordings should be made of any abnormal discharge, any decrease in milk production, and if they seem to be reluctant to eat or not eating as much as they should. Efforts should also be made to keep a low-stress environment and provide proper nutrition. 

There are also commercial genetic tests that help provide information regarding the wellness of cows and calves.  This is done through a collection of blood, hair, or tissue and then sent off where it can be evaluated. 

Before calving, make sure the environment is a clean one. Also, making sure the obstetrics tools are clean and that the cow’s vulva is also clean before any procedure. This will decrease the chance of bacteria entering the uterus. 

The Effective Treatment of Metritis

The staple treatment of Metritis used to be an intrauterine infusion. This consists of injecting antibiotics or lavage into the uterus. However, this has since been pushed down as the preferred method. This is because it does not show evidence of restoring fertility or eliminating inflammation.

It also can cause an introduction of other harmful bacteria into the uterus, which is obviously counterintuitive. Not only can it lead to more bacteria, but it can also cause tissue damage, lead to a uterine puncture, as well as scarring. 

Today it is much better to use systemic antibiotics that are labeled for the treatment of metritis. Prostaglandin f2 alpha has also been used to help the cow ready for the next estrus. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are also beneficial to help decrease inflammation and thus help reduce any pain. 

It is important that staff, farmers, and the herd veterinarian all record which antibiotics were used, which worked, and for how long. This is especially crucial in knowing that proper milk withholding time is done. 

Other Diseases Associated With Metritis in Cows

Many factors can predispose metritis in cows:

  • Tuberculosis
  • Dirty equipment
  • Stress
  • Overcrowding
  • Using medicine with an oily base

Tuberculosis is a chronic disease that affects cattle. It has a slow progression and often goes undiagnosed due to its unclear clinical signs. It is caused by three strains of bacteria (Mycobacterium bovis, Mycobacterium avium, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis) and can be spread to other animals and humans. 

Tuberculosis is transmitted through respiratory droplets, so it’s critical that sick cows are separated from the other herd. Tuberculosis can lead to metritis and endometritis (inflammation of the inner lining of the uterus).

Which Other Animals Are Susceptible to Metritis?

Cows are not the only animals susceptible to metritis. In fact cows, and pigs are also at risk of developing this condition. Mares have a few different bacterial culprits that cause metritis, but yeasts and fungus can also cause it. However, an intrauterine infusion is still the best treatment when it comes to metritis in mares. 

Sows usually suffer from metritis at mating or artificial insemination (A.I), and it can be a long recurring problem. The most common causative bacteria are Staphylococcus hyicus or E. coli, and there is, unfortunately, no effective treatment. Luckily most cows spontaneously recover. 

Metritis has also been heard to occur in goats, sheep, camelids, dogs, and cats. Metritis in dogs and cats usually occurs a week after giving birth, an abortion (natural or medical), or A.I. Bacteria is also the culprit for metritis in dogs and cats.

Metritis will continue to be a problem in the dairy industry because bacteria will always be around. However, if you focus on prevention and practice good hygiene, stress-free, and proper protocols, its occurrence can be significantly decreased. At the very least, it will be caught early without a chance to worsen.