Dr Chris van Dijk

Congestion as well as mild edema of the udder is normal due to various physiological reasons in first calf heifers and second or later lactation cows. With an abnormal swelling it may predispose to problems with colostrum intake of the calf and with the milk let down reflex. The teats shorten and strut outward, making it more difficult to keep the milking machine in place predisposing to mastitis and damage of the suspensory ligament of the udder with premature culling of the cow.

The condition results when there is an excessive accumulation of fluid between secretory cells within the udder. This causes swelling (edema) to occur and it often extends forward under the skin in front of the udder.

The exact cause is not known but it develops primarily because of an impaired blood and lymph circulation from the lower abdomen because of fetal pressure in the pelvic area. It may also be partially related to the sharp drop in blood serum proteins that occurs near calving time. This drop is closely associated with the transfer of gamma globulin's (antibodies) to colostrum and it is usually more severe in animals calving for the first time than in subsequent lactation's.

If udder edema is a herd problem (more than 2% of cows and 5% in heifers) other factors like overfeeding of grain prepartum or overfeeding of sodium and potassium prepartum may also play a role especially where heifers are involved.

Legume or mixed, mainly legume forages should be limited to not more than 30 to 50 percent of forage dry matter intake by dry cows. Heavy feeding of these forages may result in excessive protein, calcium and potassium intakes.

Soy cakes (a by-product of the production of soy sauce) contains 8-10% salt. This limits their use especially in the dry cow ration. No additional salt is needed in the diet when soy cakes are fed at their upper limit. When you must however make use of soy cakes I would suggest that the sodium level of the dry cow ration should be monitored on a regular basis.

Several procedures may prove helpful in the treatment of udder edema. This includes massaging the udder in an upward direction for 10-20 minutes twice a day after milking so as to promote circulation of fluids, udder supports for cows with poorly attached udders, and moderate exercise which helps stimulate lymph circulation. Drugs such as diuretics can be used to speed up the removal of water from the body.  Corticosteroids is another drug that can be utilized, but only with extreme caution and under the direction of a veterinarian, due to the potency and other resulting complications.

The best prevention is to avoid excess salt during the dry period and to keep a close check on feeding programs of bred heifers and dry cows. Providing moderate exercise along with good care at calving helps reduce edema. In addition, prevent chilling and bruising of udders and milk out problem-cows before calving.

Anionic salts in the prepartum diet will also help to prevent udder edema in a way because of the diuretic effect of the anionic salts

Disclaimer: Zoetis takes no responsibility for any claims that may arise from information contained in this information sheet. Individual situations may vary from location to location and it is recommended that you consult your veterinarian before any management or treatment decisions are implemented.

Vrywaring: Zoetis neem geen verantwoordelikheid vir enige eise wat mag voortspruit uit inligting vervat in hierdie inligtingsdokument. Individuele situasies varieer van plek tot plek en dit word voorgestel dat u eers u veearts kontak alvorens enige bestuurs- of behandelingsbesluite geïmplementeer word.