Question of the Week
Answer: Frothy bloat refers to a condition when a ruminant consumes forages that produce a frothy gas in the rumen and the animal cannot pass the gas. The rumen gets so full of gas that it eventually presses against the heart or lungs and the animal expires. Legumes such as alfalfa and clovers can cause bloat. In Montana, for example, alfalfa hay from first and second cuttings will generally not bloat cows, but alfalfa hay from third cutting can. Clovers and alfalfa in pastures can also bloat cows. Birdsfoot Trefoil and Sanfoin are legumes containing tannins that do not let the frothy gases form, hence no bloat.
Whenever you look at a cow, always critically evaluate five areas: eyes, ears, rumen, udder, and manure. After a while, this will become second nature to you. The rumen "triangle," or paralumbar fossa (see www.merckmanuals.com/media/vet/figures/DIG_cannulation_of_rumen_cow.gif for a useful graphic) should be not be expanded; if it is, the animal is going to bloat or already bloating. The following link shows what a cow looks like when she is bloating: www.ianrpubs.unl.edu/epublic/live/g2018/build/graphics/g2018-1.jpg.
The paralumbar fossa is also known as the "death triangle." Besides checking for bloat, it is an easy way to check if a cow's feed intake is normal. If you see a severely "dished in" triangle, the cow’s feed is incorrect—either you are under-feeding her or she is off her feed for some reason.
To treat bloat, use Therabloat from your vet. It comes in a two-ounce vial. Pour the vial into a 16-ounce soda bottle, add about 10 ounces of water, and drench the cow with it. If you have not drenched a cow before, it is probably best to call your veterinarian for assistance, as it is possible to get the fluid into her lungs by mistake. It does not hurt to keep the cow walking for 30 minutes. About 10 minutes after administering the drench, the cow will start to belch. Generally, in one hour, the bloat is relieved. This treatment must be administered before the cow is down. When she is in a prostrate position, your chances of saving her are reduced. It is not a bad idea to have vial or two of Therabloat on hand at all times.
Inserting a needle, knife, or trocar into the rumen via the paralumbar fossa is not recommended to treat bloat. While effective in relieving the bloat condition, this procedure also almost always causes peritonitis, which is an intense systemic infection that is often untreatable. Peritonitis will kill the cow in about three to five days.
To prevent bloat, you can feed a bloat block that the cow can lick on. It is a molasses base, so intake is generally assured. The key to prevention is also to always keep feed in front of the cow—keep her full.
For more information on ruminant nutrition, see the ATTRA publication Ruminant Nutrition for Graziers at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=201 .
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