Course of Comfort

cow with frothy bloat

Cow with frothy bloat, photo credit

Observing Bovine Bloats.

And now for the much anticipated bovine bloat.  First, we will look at gaseous bloat.  Gaseous bloat is the result of improper digestion or fermentation of grain.  The way to relieve gaseous bloat is by passing a tube into the rumen or using a trocar and cannula to make an external opening in the rumen to release gas pressure.  The other type of bloat is frothy bloat.  Frothy bloat is caused by surfactants in legumes, trapping gasses in a bubbly foam.  The treatment for frothy bloat is to pump large amounts of mineral oil into the rumen via a tube to break up the bubbles.  Bloat must be treated quickly as the increased rumen size and pressure interferes with normal breathing.  There are also a few things you can do to prevent bloat.  The incidence of bloat in cattle grazing legumes can be reduced by maintaining at least 50% of the stand as grass.  Also, cattle should not be turned out onto a pasture with a high percentage of legumes when cattle are hungry or the pasture is wet. Although, once cattle are adapted to legume/grass pastures, they can graze it even when wet.  It is also a good idea to make sure not to give cattle too much grain, as they cannot digest large amounts correctly.  A final option is to use “bloat guard” blocks which contain poloxalene.  Acute bloat must be treated promptly. In the last stages of severe bloat, a few seconds delay may result in the animal’s death.  Plan with your veterinarian for emergency treatment for bloat before the grazing season. Equipment needed includes good handling facilities, a stomach tube or rubber hose about 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter and 8 to 10 feet long, a supply of defoaming agent, and a large trocar. If the trocar fails to relieve the bloat, as a last resort you will also need a sharp knife suitable for incising the skin and making an opening into the rumen.  In severe cases, a stomach tube can provide relief. If the tube doesn’t provide immediate relief, the defoaming agent will frequently break down the foam and allow large amounts of gas to release through the tube or by belching. The antifoaming agent can be added through the tube or through a trocar and bloat needle. Never drench a bloated animal. Fluid is apt to be inhaled during drenching, causing immediate death or pneumonia.  Chronic bloat caused by pressure on the esophagus due to muscle paralysis or other tissue pressure can be corrected by making a ruminal fistula. A veterinarian can surgically create a ruminal fistula in the left flank area to release excess rumen gases. Generally, these openings are about 3/4 inch in diameter. The fistula is designed to remain open for 1 to 2 months. During this time the swollen tissues should decrease in size and normal belching can resume. Normally, natural healing will close the fistula. If not, a veterinarian can surgically repair it.  Ultimately, you might want to look more into a preventative course of action as it costs a lot less than treating bloat after it happens, and also spares the cow discomfort.

To see what a trocar and cannula  look like, and more pictures of bovine bloat, watch my video at

Eructating Ruminants

 Concerning Cud.

Cow with cud

Cow with cud (royalty free)

Of course, every discourse about ruminate stomachs has to include the description and function of cud.  When cows chew their cud, they are regurgitating and rechewing previously incompletely chewed feed.  In order for the microbes to digest fiber rapidly and efficiently it must be in small pieces so cattle re-chew their food several times.  Accordingly, cattle also eructate, giving off carbon dioxide and methane.  When cows “lose their cud” or stop ruminating, it is a sign of digestive upset, and their rumen are not functioning properly.  Bloat is another affliction that occurs when cows can’t eructate.  This is caused by rapid change in feed or overeating grain (gaseous bloat) or grazing pure clover or alfalfa (frothy bloat).  Conclusively, cud is a very important part of digestion for all ruminants, not just cattle.   If your ruminant is not eructating or regurgitating cud, then you know that there is something wrong with the rumen.  And if the rumen isn’t healthy, the cow isn’t healthy.  So make sure to check your cow’s intake and don’t feed it to much grain!  (More about bloats next week).

To see cows and other ruminants chewing cud, watch my video at