HARDWARE DISEASE (traumatic reticuloperitonitis)

I went out to do a post mortem or autopsy on a cow that had died last night. She was a 10 year old cow that had calved about 2 months ago and hadn’t been doing the best. I cut open her chest to find a lot of brown, very smelly fluid in the space around the lungs. There was evidence of chronic inflammation (fibrin) on the rib cage and attached to the heart

(pericardial) sac. Considering the environment of the chest, the lungs looked really healthy! The pericardial sac was quite thickened and when I cut into It there was more of this brown fluid. The heart was quite adhered to the pericardial sac and the surface of the heart (myocardium) was discoloured and covered in fibrin. I pulled the heart out of the body to reveal a wire lodged into the heart! (See video).


HOW DID THIS WIRE GET THERE? The cows anatomy is quite different than in humans (see picture). They have a very large 4 chambered stomach that sits very close to their diaphragm. The cow must have ate the small wire. Once swallowed, the wire first ends up in the cows first stomach called the reticulum. This portion of the stomach sits very close to the chest cavity. The wire somehow then got lodged into the stomach wall, went through the diaphragm into the chest, and eventually worked its way into the pericardial sac/heart. This is more likely to happen late in pregnancy when the calf is pushing on the stomach or during labour when the cow is straining.

Typically, the wires contact with the heart doesn’t kill this cow. Instead, it’s what the wire causes. The leakage of stomach contents and bacteria into the chest, pericardial sac, and abdomen is very inflammatory and causes the body to mount a very large localized immune response. This immune response will result in adhesions, abscesses, and gross fluid. Eventually, the pressure on the heart, the overwhelming immune response, and/or sepsis will kill the cow.


I found a a magnet in the stomach too. WHY? Because farmers will give their cows a magnet to pull together all of the little pieces of metal that cows may eat to prevent hardware disease from happening. This is really the only non-surgical way to try to treat hardware disease. You can go in surgically and remove all of the stomach contents to search and remove the wire. But, the prognosis is variable and it really isn’t exactly economically feasible for your average cow!




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