Clinical Examination of the Cow

Clinical Examination Routine

University of Glasgow crest

The Head End

There are a number of procedures that are useful to perform on the head. Many of these require opening the mouth, which is a difficult procedure that takes some practice! Bear in mind that most cattle are not used to being approached from the head end and may not be amenable to it, so make sure the animal is adequately restrained using a crush - the addition of a halter may also be useful in some circumstances.

General appearance

Just as you did from the tail end, take a step back and look at animal from the front. Is the head symmetrical, or is there evidence of bone remodelling or swellings?
What is the condition of the hair around the face and muzzle?
Is there any evidence of nasal discharge? Is there air flow through both nostrils?
Is there any brisket or sub-mandibular oedema present?[more information]

Facial assymetry There is evidence of facial assymetry in this animal; in this case caused by a long standing infection of the frontal sinus.
Check the air flow through each nostril using a piece of straw or paper. Assessing nasal air flow

The eyes and conjunctiva

Examine the pupillary light reflex and menace response on both sides. Is there any evidence of cloudiness in the eyes, or corneal ulceration? Mild cateracts are a relatively common incidental finding. Examine the color of the conjunctiva - is it normal? A full neurological examination is possible and may be indicated based on the history or mentation/gait of the animal, but is not usually covered as part of a routine clinical exam.

Examining the eye Examining the conjunctiva

Opening the mouth

Opening mouths of cattle requires some practice, but once the technique is perfected is relatively straightforward. If the animal has its head down, standing next to the head extend your arm over the top of the head and put your fingers under the top lip in the corner of the mouth on the opposite side to where you are standing. If the animal has its head up, you may need to put your arm under the jaw and put your fingers in over the bottom lip. Once the animal opens its mouth you should be able to gently hold the tongue and take your other hand away. As long as you have your fingers in the gap between the incisors and molars you aren't going to get bitten! [watch video]

Once you have the mouth open check for the following:

Lymph nodes

The sub-mandibular lymph nodes should be palpable as small (1-2cm diameter) spherical objects at the angle of the jaw. Take care not to confuse them for the salivary glands which are larger and less regular. Check to see if the lymph nodes are enlarged - unilaterally or bilaterally - which may indicate active infection.

Sub-mandibular lymph node location The location of the submandibular lymph node (shown in the yellow circle)
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Circulatory system

The hydration of the animal should be assessed using the skin tent test - good places to do this are on the neck and on the skin above the eye.[watch video]

Examine the jugular grooves for signs of distension and jugular pulsing. If either of these are present, it may be useful to occlude the cranial end of the jugular vein and strip the blood towards the heart, then wait (with the vein still occluded cranially) to see if it re-fills. A positive test is indicative of heart valve failure - possibly due to endocarditis.

It is possible to feel a cow's pulse through the facial artery which passes over the mandible near the angle of the jaw. However, this can be difficult to find and requires the animal to keep still!

Taking a pulse from the facial artery Facial pulse


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