It amazes me how I can go months without seeing a case of hardware disease, and then have several occur in a short period of time. I recently had a hardware problem at a local farm that reminded me how important it is to investigate a problem thoroughly before recommending preventive measures, and to follow up to check on compliance.
Make a diagnosis
A local farm called with a fresh cow that presented with chronic ketosis and poor milk production. The owner had given propylene glycol, B vitamins, and probiotics without success.
Upon physical examination, the cow was feverish, had no rumen movements and walked and stood with a "humped back/tucked abdomen" appearance. I pinched her withers and she did not squat down. Direct pressure on the sternum area resulted in the cow giving a definite grunt - a sign that it was painful. Hardware was diagnosed, and the cow was given a magnet, antibiotics, and non-steroid anti-inflammatories.
I then reviewed the possible causes of the problem with the owner. Cows often ingest metal objects or foreign bodies in their feed. Some small, short objects may pass through without harm. These objects are most commonly caught in the reticulum or omasum. But often, due to the straining and pressure from calving, these objects penetrate into the abdominal cavity.
The penetrating object and the leakage from the GI tract causes an inflammation of the peritoneum. It can be treated successfully, or it may resolve on its own. In other cases, the infection spreads, causing a generalized peritonitis that has a poorer prognosis. In about 8 percent of hardware cases, the metal object advances through the liver into the thoracic cavity and into the heart. In these cases, symptoms include a pneumonia-like infection in the lower lung field, and fluid in the chest cavity and between the lungs and the rib cage. This causes muffled heart and lung sounds. If the object gets to the heart, it can cause an infection in the sac around the heart, called pericarditis, which leads to the classical "washing machine" murmur. Few of these cases return to normal, and many do not survive.
Find the cause
After reviewing hardware with the client, I asked about any repairs to feed equipment or in his silo or feed bunk. He did remember some repairs being done during harvest, and he had worked on his silo unloader recently.
I recommended adding some magnets to the silage unloader to catch any metal pieces before they emptied into the bunk. I also suggested that he inspect the bunk to remove any metal or sharp objects already present. I then left feeling this would take care of this situation.
About two weeks later, I was called back to see two fresh cows and one late gestation dry cow presenting with hardware signs. All were confirmed with hardware disease, and one fresh cow showed signs of pericarditis. Two were treated and the other more severe case was culled.
I then asked about the steps he had taken since my earlier visit. None had been completed. And, to make matters worse, since the milking herd had been turned out to pasture, he was now feeding the dry cows at the same bunk where the lactating cows had been fed - to clean up the remaining silage. Several pieces of wire and other sharp objects were found in the bunk.
All dry cows were given a magnet immediately. And, he decided in the future to give all cows a magnet at dry off. The bunk was swept clean, and large magnets were finally installed at the unloader.
The problem resolved after this, but not before three more cases developed in this 100-cow herd. Of the seven cases, three had to be culled and two never returned to full production.
Attention to detail and prompt follow up on recommendations is vital in situations like this where the results can be devastating.
Jim Brett is a practicing veterinarian in Montezuma, Ga.