Clinical and diagnostic findings of small intestinal strangulation in cattle

Intestinal strangulation is constriction of the intestine by a band of tissue, ligament or blood vessel causing partial or complete intestinal obstruction. This retrospective study describes the clinical, laboratory and ultrasonographic findings, treatment and outcome of 60 cows with intestinal strangulation.

Data showed that general condition was abnormal in all cows (60/60), 23.3% (14/60) had nonspecific signs of pain, 40% (24/60) had signs of colic and 48.3% (29/60) had signs of somatic (parietal) pain. The most common digestive tract abnormalities were, in decreasing frequency, reduced or absent intestinal motility (100%, 60/60), reduced or absent faecal output (98.3%, 59/60), reduced or absent rumen motility (93.4%, 56/60), dilated small intestines on transrectal palpation (63.3%, 38/60), positive ballottement and swinging auscultation (BSA) and/or percussion and simultaneous auscultation (PSA) on the right side of the abdomen (58.3%, 35/60) and at least one positive foreign body test, most commonly the back grip, in 33.9% (20/59) of the cows. Other common findings were reduced skin surface temperature (67.8%, 40/59), reduced skin turgor (51.7%, 31/60), prolonged capillary refill time (49.2%, 29/59), enophthalmus (48.3%, 29/60) and moderate to severe scleral injection (46.6%, 27/58). The most common laboratory findings were hypokalaemia (58.3%, 35/60), haemoconcentration (57.6%, 34/59), base excess (51.1%, 24/47), hyperproteinaemia (45.8%, 27/59), hyperbilirubinaemia (43.3%, 26/60), acidosis (42.6%, 20/47) and azotaemia (38.3%, 23/60). The principal ultrasonographic findings were subjectively reduced or absent small intestinal motility and dilated small intestines, but the strangulation could not be visualised by ultrasonography. With one exception, all cows underwent a right flank laparotomy to resolve the strangulation by transection or resection of the impinging tissue. Forty-nine (81.7%) cows were discharged and 11 (18.3%) were euthanized before, during or after surgery.

Without laparotomy, intestinal strangulation could be clinically (transrectally) diagnosed in only 10% of the cows. A laparotomy is therefore essential for the correct diagnosis. The prognosis is good with prompt surgical treatment.

“Small intestinal strangulation in 60 cattle - clinical, laboratory and ultrasonographic findings, treatment and outcome”. Ueli Braun, et al. BMC Vet Res. 2023 Nov 9;19(1):233.  doi: 10.1186/s12917-023-03797-9.


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