UMBILICAL HERNIAS in calves

Have you ever walked into your pasture and looked at a calfs belly in confusion? A million thoughts are going through your head and you ask yourself “what is that lump on the bottom of its belly where its belly button is?”


Well, you’re not alone! Usually, this is an abscess, an umbilical hernia, OR both!

To get a more definitive answer to what this lump is, Ill put an ultrasound on the bump to see if the body wall is closed and the skin has a pouch of flocculent material inside (abscess) and/or if the body wall is open with moving intestines in the pouch of skin (hernia). If I am suspicious that it is an abscess, Ill poke a needle inside to make sure pus comes out and then make a large incision to allow drainage of the abscess.


BUT, if intestines or abdominal contents (fat, omentum, etc) are present, surgical correction is required. The correction needs to be done before the calf is too big. Generally, I like to do it when the calf is <400lbs. If you don’t correct the hernia, there is a risk that intestines can be strangulated in the open hole and the calf can die.


Ideally, the calf is fasted for 24 hours prior to the procedure. Ill give the calf a dose of injectable medication to sedate him/her. Once the calf is nice and sleepy, we will rotate the calf onto his/her back. The belly is clipped and cleaned. A local block is done with lidocaine to freeze the area. Another scrub is done on the hernia area and a surgical drape is placed. Usually, the abdominal contents will slip back into the body when placed on their back.

Using a scalpel blade, an elliptical incision is made through the skin and this piece of skin is removed. I cut through the subcutaneous tissue and fat to the open body wall. The edges of muscle involved in the opening are cut to ‘freshen the tissue’ until the are bleeding. The newly freshened muscle is sutured together so they overlap with suture that will dissolve on its own. The subcutaneous tissue is sutured with similar suture. Finally, the skin is closed using simple interrupted sutures that need to be removed in 2 weeks.


An anti-inflammatory pain med and antibiotics are given before the calf wakes up. The calf needs to be placed in a confined clean area while the surgical site heals! Usually, calves do quite good after surgery but there is a risk of the surgical site dehiscing or falling apart and/or infection post surgery.


As you can see I do not wear a cap, face shield, or mask. WHY? We attempt to do these surgeries in as clean of environment as possible. But, we also have to be realistic and sometimes the surgeries are done on farm. In comparison to the environment the surgeries are often performed in and where the cows recover, a surgical mask and cap are going to do very minimal to reduce the risk of contamination and infection.




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