South Dakota State University Extension veterinarian Russell Daly says that type of prolapse is the most immediate problem that could happen after calving and, in particular, a difficult birth or hard delivery.

Russell Daly“The uterus inverts and follows the calf right out of the birth canal,” Daly says.

A uterine prolapse means it is a medical emergency and needs to be dealt with immediately to save the cow. Daly says the large blood supply in the uterus gets the calf ready for birth.

However, if the uterus is prolapsed, that blood entering the uterus cannot return to the rest of the blood supply to circulate throughout the rest of the body.

If producers find a cow with a uterine prolapse, Daly recommends calling a veterinarian immediately. In some cases, producers can attempt to put the uterus back in themselves, but they need to keep in mind that cleanliness should be a priority and the uterus needs to be put back in properly.


“Making sure the uterus is all the way put back inside right is really important because if it’s not, the cow tends to think something’s still wrong and she’ll want to push it back out again,” he says.

If a cow had a hard delivery, Daly says producers should try to get the cow up after the calf is out.

“After assisting with a dystocia and the calf is out, the cow should immediately be encouraged to stand up if it has been lying down for the delivery. This allows gravity to help stop the process if a uterine prolapse is beginning,” he says.

After the veterinarian has been called, and the producer decides not to try it himself, Daly wants the cow to be kept calm and left where she’s at to prevent any unnecessary movement. For producers calving out on pasture, he realizes little movement might be a problem because the cow will have to be restrained to receive treatment.

“The more they run around and move around, gravity works on that prolapse and has a tendency to stretch it out,” Daly says. “That’s where we have some real damage to blood vessels inside the organ and more of a chance of a rupture of one of those blood vessels. That can be a really life-threatening situation.”

He noted uterine prolapses occur because of an exhausted uterus. Cows that had a big calf and had to put in a lot of effort on contractions could result in uterine prolapses.

Sometimes low blood calcium can cause uterine prolapses. However, Daly notes that is usually not a big factor in beef herds – but should be considered if a herd is seeing more uterine prolapses than usual.

Types of prolapse

Once a cow has a uterine prolapse, that does not mean she will have one again on her next calf.

“That cow doesn’t have any more probability of her having another one next year than any other cow. If she has another one, it’s because she has another big calf. It doesn’t have anything to do with genetics,” he says.

In terms of other prolapses, those will happen again if the cow remains in the breeding herd. Daly says vaginal prolapse and cervical prolapse would occur again.

“Once a cow has had one, everything is loosened up back there that she’s going to do it again next year,” he says. “Those are the ones that need to be culled from the herd.”

In a vaginal prolapse, the vaginal lining is bulging out of the vulva before calving. Sometimes the prolapse will be seen when the cow is lying down but goes away when she stands up. A vaginal prolapse occurs due to the fetus growing and the abdominal contents pushing on the cow’s ligaments.

As the prolapse gets exposed to the air and abrasions from lying down, it gets irritated and inflamed.

“When it gets to the point where she’s strained, and she’s pushed it all out, and it’s not coming back in, then that needs some medical attention,” Daly says. “It’s nothing she’ll be able to have a calf through.”

A veterinarian will put in purse-string sutures or retaining buttons to keep the vaginal lining inside so that when she has her calf, it has an open birth canal. Daly says cows with purse-string sutures need to be confined and watched closely around calving so the sutures can be removed by the producer when the cow starts to calve.

“Vaginal prolapses just are not any fun for anybody. They are nuisances and can be very tricky to deal with sometimes,” he says.

In cervical prolapses, Daly says they are similar to vaginal prolapses, where some of the vaginal lining is pushed out. However, he notes this type of prolapse is a little strange because the cervical prolapse happens several days to weeks after calving.

He says a cervical prolapse is rare, but if a cow has one, she would likely have the prolapse pre-calving the next season. He recommends those cows be culled from the herd.

Retained placenta

Producers should also be on the lookout for retained placenta, particularly when dealing with a hard calving. Normally, the placenta detaches itself readily from the uterus within 12 hours.

While veterinarians may have differing views about how soon a cow should be treated with a retained placenta, Daly recommends waiting 72 hours after calving if the placenta has not detached in order to give it enough time to detach on its own.

“There used to be a day when it was thought that you really needed to remove that placenta and become aggressive about manually going in and pulling the placenta out, off the cotyledons and getting that all out,” Daly says.

“We’ve kind of come to the realization that causes more trauma and introduces infection than it would if we left the placenta or if at least we didn’t get so aggressive about trying to remove it.”

Daly says the situation where the cow would need assistance would be if she was showing any signs of sickness. In that case, the veterinarian should be called to administer some antibiotics or anti-inflammatories.

It may be hard to know if a cow is still retaining the placenta. However, Daly says a producer would know it is there if some of it is still present externally, she has smelly discharge from the uterus or is eating poorly or has a fever.

He also says cows that had twins are more likely to retain the placenta longer than usual and have more placenta in general.

“I think knowing that a cow had a tough calving, or maybe it’s a cow that they had to pull a calf on, those are the ones you may want to watch over the next couple, three or four days to make sure they’re feeling good and eating good,” Daly says.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Uterine prolapse needs immediate attention due to the amount of blood loss potential. 

PHOTO 2: Russell Daly is an extension veterinarian with South Dakota State University. Photos provided by Russell Daly.

Wendy Sweeter