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Producers should consider culling females in certain prolapse situations

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

While not particularly common, prolapses in cattle can occur and should be treated according to the type of prolapse the animal is experiencing. The two types of prolapses, uterine and vaginal, occur at distinct times. Uterine prolapses occur after calving and vaginal prolapses will generally occur towards the end of gestation.

Research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) station at Miles City, Mont., reported 153 of 13,296 calvings from a 14-year span were associated with prolapse of the reproductive tract. Of those 153 prolapses, 81 percent were vaginal prolapses and 19 percent were uterine prolapses. 

This same study reports subsequent pregnancy rate following prolapse among first-calf heifers was 28 percent, and the pregnancy rate among adult cows following a prolapse was only 57.9 percent.

Uterine prolapse 

According to Oklahoma State University (OSU) Extension, uterine prolapses require immediate attention and if treated quickly, most animals have an uneventful recovery. 

“If the animal subsequently rebreeds and becomes pregnant, there is no reason to cull animals suffering uterine prolapse after calving as a uterine prolapse is not likely to reoccur,” notes OSU. 

However, more serious uterine prolapses can cause permanent damage to the uterus or cause infections, which can prevent conception in the future. Failure to treat a uterine prolapse can cause severe trauma to the uterus and the cow can die from hemorrhage or shock. 

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, “Prolapse of the uterus occurs immediately after or within several hours of parturition, when the cervix is open and the uterus lacks tone. Prolapse of the complete post-gravid uterine horn is most common in affected cows, and the mass of uterus may hang below the tarsi.”

OSU Food Animal Medicine and Surgery Resident Elizabeth Crabtree notes while uterine prolapses are unlikely to reoccur and not related to any sort of genetic predisposition, certain factors can make some cows more likely to experience a uterine prolapse. 

“There are a handful of predisposing factors for uterine prolapses: a prior vaginal prolapse, low calcium levels and dystocia or difficult delivery. In beef cattle, a prolonged delivery is the most common cause,” Crabtree says. “For this reason, the best prevention of a uterine prolapse is early intervention when a heifer or cow is having difficulty calving.”

Vaginal prolapses

While they may appear to be less serious than a uterine prolapse due to being smaller in size, a vaginal prolapse also needs to be treated as an emergency. 

Due to the repetitive and genetic nature of vaginal prolapses, many professionals recommend to cull any cattle who experience a vaginal prolapse.

According to Michigan State University Veterinarian Jennifer Roberts, vaginal prolapses can occur with or without the prolapse of the cervix and usually occurs in mature animals in the last trimester of pregnancy.

The Merck Veterinary Manual explains, “The prolapse begins as an intussusception-like folding of the vaginal floor just cranial to the vestibulovaginal junction. Discomfort caused by this eversion, coupled with irritation and swelling of the exposed mucosa, results in straining and more extensive prolapse.”

“Eventually, the entire vagina may be prolapsed, with the cervix visible at the most caudal part of the prolapsed tissue. The bladder or loops of the intestine may be contained within the prolapsed vagina,” the manual continues. “As the bladder moves into the prolapsed vagina, the urethra may be occluded. The bladder then fills and enlarges, which hinders correction of the vaginal prolapse unless the bladder is first drained. The bladder may even rupture with potentially fatal consequences.”

Roberts notes there is a genetic component of vaginal prolapses, particularly with Hereford and Brahman-influenced breeds. Other predisposing factors include grazing certain types of estrogenic clover, use of growth implants and repeated exposure to concentrated estrogen. 


Roberts stresses the importance of treating uterine prolapses as soon as possible to save the life of the animal and salvage the future fertility. 

“In cows, treatment involves removing the placenta, thoroughly cleaning the endometrial surface and surgically repairing any lacerations,” she says. “Applying sugar to the surface of the uterus or rinsing with hypertonic saline can help to reduce edema and aid reduction of the prolapse.”

Crabtree notes vaginal prolapse is generally smaller in size with a smooth to slightly wrinkled look. 

“Treatment for a vaginal prolapse is rather straight forward,” Crabtree says. “Replace the vagina into normal position with the assistance of an epidural anesthesia. A Buhner’s stitch is placed to keep the prolapse from reoccurring.” 

“This stitch will need to be removed once calving starts because it will impede the progress of labor and endanger the cow and calf,” concludes Crabtree.

Callie Hanson is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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