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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care                                                 February 2002

            Diagnosis of the month à Ketosis (acetonemia).

            During the past month, I saw many cows which had primary ketosis (not associated with a twisted stomach). This is a condition which is not uncommon, but I usually find ketosis as a result of a primary problem, not as the primary problem itself. If let go, simple ketosis can lead to nervous ketosis—a condition where the animal acts crazy by biting itself, licking and biting pipes, and pushing its muzzle into its feed in the manger.

            So just what is ketosis? It is simply a condition where cows are not taking in enough energy in their feed to balance their metabolic, lactation and growth needs. Theoretically, they are starving. Starving for energy/ carbohydrates/ sugars. The brain always gets fueled first; if not, then nothing else will occur. If the animal is not taking in enough energy to meet its needs, fat is mobilized from body reserves and the liver can convert fat to an energy source, albeit a non-preferred one—ketones. The brain can use this alternative source temporarily but if used for a longer period, then ‘nervous ketosis’ may develop.

            What are the clinical signs of primary ketosis? Typically the cow is a bit depressed and almost sleepy looking, she will eat hay and silage but not her grain, her manure will be firm and dry (approaching that of horse manure), and she will have a sweet smell of ketones on her breath and in her milk (like nail polish or glue). Often, one can hear her heartbeat just behind the last rib on the left (rumen side) if listening with a stethoscope. And her urine will turn a Ketostick purple, like the print color on this paper. Normally, it will occur in the first few weeks of lactation.

            Ketosis can lead to a twisted stomach; however, it is usually a consequence of a twisted stomach. It goes both ways. It also can lead to other problems, such as fatty liver and cystic ovaries.

            The treatment is rather straightforward. The cow needs dextrose IV first. This immediately increases the blood glucose levels to within normal, at least for a short time until it is used up. A follow-up and very appropriate treatment is propylene glycol drenched orally 8 oz. (1 cup) twice daily as needed. This is actually akin to adding wood to the stove because the rumen can convert propylene glycol to carbohydrate sugars which then enter the bloodstream of the cow. Then the liver won’t be under stress to convert fats to energy. Liver tonics such as herbal celandine, dandelion and milk thistle would support liver function as well as homeopathic Lycopodium and Chelidonium (derived from celandine).

            A preventative technique is to use choline (a B-like vitamin) in the pre-fresh ration. This has been shown to help the liver process low density lipoproteins so they don’t accumulate in the liver to give fatty liver. Heavy, over-conditioned cows should receive this is their pre-fresh ration. It is commercially available as Reassure (Balchem Mfg.) as a rumen-protected choline which is not degraded immediately in the rumen but passes into the small intestine and is then absorbed into the portal vein to the liver. Organic producers cannot use this product, but can use injections of choline chloride (Methaplex) 20 cc IM once daily for 5 days just before freshening.

            Many cows get borderline ketosis. Whether you detect it is another question. But remember that ketosis is a thief—it robs your cow of her energy and vitality which can give other serious problems. Feed your cows well, keeping in mind you have a large living mammal that needs to nourish her basic metabolic processes, her growth and her udder for the milk you are removing. If you don’t feed her correctly, she will deplete her body and become a rack of bones that will have trouble conceiving for months on end.

 

For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:
www.bovinityhealth.com

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