Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cow anesthesia

Instead of blogging, I have been shovelling snow. And sleeping off being sick. Also maybe there was some studying in there too. But I am rallying! I love New England winter! Especially when school keeps getting closed down for snow days!

Last week I had my bovine anesthesia lab. When I learned to do anesthesia on a dog, it was a precise and complicated process which took place in a hospital. The dog got pre-anesthesia medication, had a tube down her throat to help her breathe, and got post-surgical pain meds. The process is very different with a cow.

With cows, mostly you do standing surgery — surgery while the cow is awake, with local anesthesia so they don’t feel the pain. Why? Obviously, part of the reasoning is financial; farmers cannot afford to take their cows in to the hospital for surgery, and the equipment for general anesthesia is not available on the farm.

However, even if you can afford to put a cow under general anesthesia, it might not be the best thing for the cow. Putting a tube down the throat of any ruminant is somewhat more dangerous than with a dog. Ruminants are more likely to aspirate their stomach contents and get aspiration pneumonia, which is definitely something you want to avoid. More importantly, cows have these huge stomachs. The compartment called the rumen is particularly enormous, containing around 25 gallons of material. This is where all that grass (or, in today’s world, corn) marinates in a soup of saliva and bacteria, and the bacteria generate energy which the cow uses. Putting a cow on her side means that the huge rumen is lying on abdominal organs. It can make breathing very difficult.

So in bovine anesthesia lab, I injected lidocaine along specific nerves in order to block areas of the cow’s side. I have not yet seen standing surgery in a cow, but when I do, I will let you know what it is like. Reaching inside a standing animal to move things around and sew things up will definitely be an interesting thing to see.


  1. Still haven't seen te surgery? are u a vet student? Well I'm in my last year i was looking for information about anesthesia in cattle for a seminar..if u have any article about protocols it would be really of help. Hope u see soon these surgeries!
    maría José from Chile

  2. I am a vet student! I don't think I am qualified to talk about specific anesthesia protocols in cattle, unfortunately. I'm much more small animal oriented than large animal.