Every producer is plagued by the odd chroni c bloater and the dilemma is often what to do with them, where and when to make the decision to treat, and what exactly the various solutions are. Chronic bloating is by definition a free-gas bloat, which keeps reoccurring. The gas can readily be let off with a tube, but then just reoccurs within a day or so. The cattle always do poorly, which is why treatment must be initiated.
The rumen microflora (microorganisms or protozoa) have been altered or killed so excessive gas is produced. The calf’s ability to eructate or belch up the gas may also have been altered. All these factors need to be considered before we decide treatment. The microflora can be killed by sudden changes in feed or sickness of some type and especially when cattle go off feed.
Treatment involves treating the primary sickness, if there is one, and re-establishing these microflora. If bloating continues, the decision has to be made whether a minor surgery called a rumen fistula should be done.
The ideal way to re-establish the rumen microflora by introducing rumen fluid from a healthy animal on similar feed. If you have a packing plant close by or are doing your own butchering this may be attempted. The rumen contents are essentially squeezed or filtered to get a gallon or so of rumen fluid. This is then pumped in utilizing a larger-bore stomach tube. Some pumps are better able to handle larger particulate matter. Take care not to chill these rumen juices, as their own environment is body temperature so they are very sensitive to chilling. It is best to pump the juices in as soon as possible and repeating the procedure may be necessary in some advanced cases. Teaching colleges have a fistulated animal with a large plug in them. The plug is simply taken out and rumen contents are pulled out. I wish every large animal practice had access to one of these fistulated animals, as they would be extremely useful for treating both chronic bloaters and grain overloads.
If rumen contents are not available many probiotics or rumen stimulants can be tried depending on what effective products your veterinarian has in stock. These products come in powder paste or bolus form. Again, the product may need to be administered several times to turn the condition around.
If these treatments fail the decision is made to have a rumen fistula done. This involves very minor surgery creating a hole from the rumen to the outside. The area over the left flank is clipped and frozen. The internal rumen wall is then sutured to the skin. This creates a tooniesize hole directly into the rumen which is permanent or gradually fills in over several months. This is a quick and relatively inexpensive procedure with very good results. The rumen gases will continually escape and because there is no pressure the animal does better. Over time the rumen microflora re-establish themselves.
I have never read anything on this, but I suspect a certain percentage of these cases occur when a growth spurt occurs and anatomically the calf is unable to
eructate the gases quickly enough. These specific cases make a dramatic improvement with a rumen fistula. If the bloat is caused by a primary disease one must assess the cost of the treatment and fistulation, as well as the odds of the calf recovering from the primary disease. As an example, chronic BVD cases can become chronic bloaters and if we suspect this we will simply euthanize these cases.
In determining whether economic to do a fistula, I look at the demeanour of the calf. If it is extremely rough haired and been a poor doer for a very long time, probably a fistula is not warranted. All other cases warrant a fistula and can go on to be normal productive animals in the feedlot.
The final thing to consider is marketing the fistulated calf. If you are rail grading there is no problem, otherwise often these cattle do get discounted if the fistula is evident. This may mean local butchering is in order. These calves create quite a sight in the winter as you can see steam rising out of the fistula sight. We once had to do this to a 4-H calf and at achievement day and the 4-H member smartly glued a patch of blue jean over the fistula.
You should only experience these chronic bloaters once in a while. If too many are experienced, go through your feeding program with your veterinarian or nutritionist as cattle may be being brought onto feed too quickly or there may be some other underlying health problem. Hopefully chronic bloaters will then be a very infrequent problem in your operation.
RoyLewisisapracticinglargeanimalveterinarian attheWestlockVeterinaryCenter, northofEdmonton,Alta.Hismaininterests arebovinereproductionandherdhealth.
“If bloating continues, the decision has to be made whether a minor surgery called a rumen fistula should be done.”