Clinical Examination of the Cow

Clinical Examination Routine

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Back to the Tail End

One of the advantages of starting and ending at the tail is that the more dirty procedures can be left until last! It is also the most likely site for taking diagnostic samples if a clinical diagnosis has not yet been reached.

Rectal Examination

A rectal examination is an essential part of a thorough clinical examination, and is often performed at the end of the clinical exam. Before entering the rectum, is common practice to perform a brief vaginal examination with a gloved hand to look for signs of 'whites' - this may either be an abnormal smell, consistency or colour of the mucous. The rectal examination can safely be done using a glove previously used for a vaginal examination, but never the other way around as this is highly likely to introduce bacteria into the reproductive tract.

Vaginal examination

The most obvious requirement for a rectal examination in an adult cow is for pregnancy diagnosis, but a rectal examination is also an integral part of a thorough clinical examination. The left kidney is situated in the midline almost directly above the rectum and should be easily palpable - check that the lobules are distinct and that the kidney is of a normal size. The right kidney is situated more cranially, but should be palpable in a shorter cow (or for those with long arms) - the caudal edge of the liver may also be within reach. Gently palpate downwards across the digestive tract - individual lymph nodes may be palpably enlarged. If the vaginal examination indicated a potential metritis, then also palpate the uterus for size and tone. If you have a scanner, then use it to assess the amount of purulent material in the uterus, and check for a CL on either ovary. Before performing a rectal examination, ensure that you have used a sufficient amount of lubrication. Thoroughly applying lubrication to the anus will make the rectal examination much easier and more comfortable for both you and the animal![watch video]

Diagnostic Tests

If a clinical diagnosis can not be conclusively reached from the full clinical exam, it may be necessary to take a blood sample, faecal sample or urine sample to aid with diagnosis. It is advisable to collect urine at the start of the clinical examination, but a faecal sample is easiest to collect immediately after the rectal examination. A blood sample is usually taken from the tail vein and can be left until the clinical examination is complete; but remember to remove any faeces from the underside of the tail before sampling (especially if a rectal examination has been performed).

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