Down Cow

Down Cow
By Ali Cullum, Veterinarian, Anexa Vet Services Morrinsville

We all know that sinking feeling when one of the cows in the paddock does not get up, or we see one laid flat out instead of sitting up! Usually it is either raining or on the day when we already have too much to do! What to do next?

A down cow is an emergency for the cow.

The first thing we need to do is decide why she is down
  • Milk fever/grass staggers, nitrate poisoning, mastitis, calving, prolapse, broken leg, dislocated hip, other disease?
  • If she is flat out, she needs to sit up or she will blow up and die
  • Is she alert and able to hold her head up, or unconscious/non responsive?
  • Helpful video:
Does she need moving immediately?
  • Is she near a ditch/river and could fall in, or is already in and may drown
  • Is she stuck?
  • Is she on concrete where she cannot get up easily etc?
  • Helpful video:


  • If nitrate poisoning, call your vet immediately and check if other cows affected
  • If milk fever/grass staggers, a bag of calcium/magnesium metabolic solution is a good place to start
  • If calving, assess whether can remove the calf or need a vet visit
  • If calving paralysis, immediate treatment with non steroidal anti-inflammatory eg Metacam will increase chances of recovery
  • If it is a prolapse, call the vet straight away, then putting clean warm towels around the prolapse and covering the cow whilst you wait will stop her losing more body heat
  • In some situations immediate euthanasia may be the best treatment, please contact your Vet.


The most important thing following treatment that you can do for a down cow is nursing care.

If the treatment does not enable the cow to get up straight away, she has a big heavy body that is quickly damaged sitting on cold hard surfaces. Ideally if she cannot get up, she should be moved as quickly as possible to a barn with straw or shavings as bedding; if this is not possible, cover her where is she and this is help.

She needs food and water, if she is with other cows this means moving them or running an electric fence around her to stop the other cows pinching her supplies.

Nursing takes time, a constant supply of food and water, turning the cow from side to side at least four times daily to help prevent muscle damage, lifting the cow at least once daily to help restore normal circulation. If you do not have time to do this it may be kinder to the cow to euthanasie her straight away. Your vet will be happy chat with you to help you make these decisions.

Helpful Video:

Date Added: Tuesday, 2nd July 2019