Dealing with Metritis

Published on Thu, 08/23/2018 - 4:05pm

Dealing with Metritis

 Metritis is a serious post-calving disease, if left unchecked the consequences can be heavy and long lasting. The effects of this disease can reach as far as the subsequent calving season, subtly eating away at time and money.

 By definition, metritis is any uterine infection. Endometritis is a chronic usually subclinical variation of infection. In this case, symptoms usually go undetected and unnoticed until the cow is no longer getting bred back.

In any instance, the result is always an inflamed uterus filled with pus and discharge that has a slow road to recovery ahead. Identifying and treating the disease or not can be the difference between a cow maintaining her fertility for years to come or being placed on the cull list.

Post-calving it isn’t uncommon for cows to have a discharge for as long as 14 or so days. A tell-tale sign of metritis is whenever discharge becomes off colored, excessive, long lasting and/or is accompanied by a foul odor. Other symptoms that you may notice first include being off feed, scours, poor milk output and a fever. Because these symptoms are synonymous with a multitude of post-calving metabolic and infectious diseases, metritis can easily be misdiagnosed or overlooked entirely.


Ultrasound is found to be a helpful and proven tool in identifying subclinical cases of metritis. Excessive fluid build-up in the uterus can be detected easily when other symptoms aren’t prevalent. While this is not always a practical method due to the cost of equipment and the skill required, it is an option for operations who already have this technology at their disposal. This diagnosis can be easily incorporated to other routine procedures when cows are run through the chute after the calving season.

The best odds for antibiotic treatment require attention as soon as any infection is positively identified. The inflammation is the culprit which slows healing because it prevents the drainage of excessive fluids. Hormone therapy, such as prostaglandins, can be effective to increase the tone of the uterus and loosen the cervix to allow drainage from the uterus.

Metritis can lay the foundation for a host of subsequent issues. Tetanus and other clostridial illnesses have been known to occur as a result of untreated metritis. Diagnosed animals should be monitored carefully for any other symptoms, especially if they are off feed, depressed or lethargic.  

Cause and risk
There are several factors that make certain cows much more susceptible to infection. Cows are already immunocompromised the first 8-12 weeks post-calving. Any additional stress or foreign contamination during the calving process escalates this, especially in such a favorable environment for bacteria and viruses as the uterus. Namely these include any cases of dystocia, twins and retained placentas that automatically increase a cow’s risk. This is especially true of any cow who requires calving assistance. Overall poor hygiene when assisting in the calving process or excessively dirty calving environments can all be major contributors.

One study of 829 Angus heifers who required professional calving assistance found that nearly 40% developed at least subclinical cases of metritis. Other studies have shown that animals with lower dry matter intake, especially during the pre-calving and post-calving recovery period, were at great risk for developing metritis compared to their herdmates who ate more.

Because of the nature of metritis, with numerous bacteria, viruses or even protozoa who can be responsible for infection, the damage and how long it takes to accumulate it is very variable. Likewise, different causes of infection will be more or less difficult to treat than others.

It is estimated that of the animals in a herd who develop metritis, 10-15% will go on to develop chronic infections. Chronically infected animals may show no external symptoms except for the occasional pus-like discharge. Unless confirmed with ultrasound or exceptional monitoring, there is no way of knowing until the damage has already been done.

Metritis turns the uterus into an inhospitable environment for conception. Cysts in the uterine lining and inflammation can be responsible for preventing embryonic implantation. Even animals who have successfully recovered following treatment may still take longer to breed back the next season.

The best method of handling metritis is to prevent it in the first place. Know who your problem calvers are and monitor them closely, especially in the weeks immediately after calving. If you must assist, make sure to take all the necessary hygienic precautions and keep the area you’ll be working in as clean as possible. Any animals who have had a rough calving or required any assistance should be kept close and treated at the first sign of infection.