Understanding endometritis and dairy reproduction.

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Reproduction is one of the most important aspects to any dairy operation. However, many dairy farms struggle to hit their herd’s reproductive goals. Reproductive performance and farm economic efficiency are related to uterine health status. Studies show that there is a strong association with postpartum endometritis and reduction in reproductive performance.

Endometritis by definition is inflammation of the uterus without systemic illness. In the postpartum period, the uterus is susceptible and can become contaminated and infected with bacteria. The uterus usually clears the infection by one-month postpartum, but in cases where it does not and the infection persists, chronic or subacute endometritis can be the result. Studies show that endometritis affects approximately 20% of postpartum cows1.

Endometritis can be hard to diagnose based on clinical presentation. Signs of infection vary from obvious persistent purulent vaginal discharge (PVD) from the uterus to inapparent infection. Most times, cows with endometritis do not show any signs of illness. Milk production and appetite are usually unimpaired. To accurately diagnose purulent vaginal discharge, an examination of vaginal vault discharge should be done to confirm the presence of an infected discharge from the cervix.

PVD can have a markedly negative effect on a cow’s fertility. Depending on the severity of the infection, endometritis can cause an increase in the days a cow remains open and significantly reduce first service conception rate. In fact, cows observed with purulent vaginal discharge (PVD) at 28 to 42 days in milk were found to have a reduced first service conception rate 26.4 % compared to cows with no PVD 40.3%. Median days to pregnancy was 40 days greater for untreated cows with PVD as compared to cows with no PVD1.

If you are struggling to reach your herd’s reproductive goals, endometritis may be part of the problem. To learn more about diagnosis and treatment options, talk to your veterinarian.

  1. Tison N, Bouchard E, DesCôteaux L, Lefebvre RC. Effectiveness of intrauterine treatment with cephapirin in dairy cows with purulent vaginal discharge. Theriogenology 2017; 89:305-317. Available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.theriogenology.2016.09.007

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