In Summary
  • To avoid milk fever, farmers should feed their pregnant and early lactation cows dairy mineral salts of high quality and follow the manufacturers’ instructions on the recommended daily intake per cow in the various stages of production.
  • Dicalcium phosphate should only be given under the instructions of a veterinary doctor since it is more of a medication rather than a balanced dairy salt.
  • A cow that is not getting up should be kept under shade to rest until the doctor arrives to make a diagnosis and give treatment.
  • Animals with nerve damage alone will look normal except loss of feeling in the hind legs. This mainly occurs when cows had difficult calving.

As long as farmers keep dairy cattle and continuously strive for higher yields, they will at one time or another encounter cases of milk fever.

I explained the disease in Seeds of Gold of January 14, 2017. However, this week, I met two farmers in a function and they said they thought there was an outbreak of milk fever in their village in Murang’a.

They have seen a number of dairy cows go down after calving. Some recover after treatment but some do not.

One of the farmers was concerned that his cow was said to have had both milk fever and nerve damage. Another was diagnosed with nerve damage after a difficult calving. He wondered when to diagnose nerve damage or milk fever.

At the same time, I have been treating a difficult case of milk fever in Thika during the week. The high-yielding pure Friesian cow was initially treated by my colleague after an easy twin calving.

The cow had responded well to treatment but the doctor noted it had consumed 800ml of 40 per cent calcium solution intravenously and 400ml under the skin.

That was a larger than usual dose. Soon after the infusion of the medicine, the cow had coughed, brightened up and stood up on her own and immediately started eating.

My colleague, Dr Mwikali, had also noted the case presented unusually because the cow was eating while lying down but the eyes were dull.

The nose was dry and the rumen and heart movements were weak. That led her to diagnose milk fever, but not showing the typical signs of groaning and placing the head on the side against the chest.

Most diseases present in a prescribed manner based on the documented most observed signs. This is medically termed the classical presentation.

Some diseases may, for some known or unknown reason, show only a handful of signs thereby prompting the doctor to diligently look for indicators of other diseases before concluding that the disease is showing an incomplete picture. This type of presentation is called atypical.

The milk fever case I have been treating this week was truly atypical. I was called three days after the initial treatment and informed the cow had again gone down, was eating and ruminating but would not stand, even with human assistance.

Upon examining the animal, I returned the same findings as Dr Mwikali. I, however, noted the muzzle was semi-dry.


The muzzle of a normal cow is always very wet. Normally, animals treated for milk fever will respond and rarely show the disease again in the current lactation.

Furthermore, this cow was being given a calcium salt in the feed since the last treatment. She should not have been struggling with milk fever again.

This being an unusual case, I collected blood samples for laboratory analysis before commencing treatment. I proceeded to give calcium solution intravenously into the jugular vein.

After infusing each 200ml of the solution, I would check the heart and rumen movements to gauge the response to treatment to avoid overdosing since the cow’s situation was not the typical milk fever. I would also monitor the wetting of the muzzle and the status of the eyes.

After infusing 800ml of the solution, the cow’s muzzle became fully wet, the heart beat strongly and the rumen sounds became loud and strong.

The cow also shook its head and was able to leak its nostrils. It voided a lot of dung and urine — signs that the nerves and muscles were communicating well again.

The cow attempted to stand but would only get halfway up before going down again. I attributed that to lying-down fatigue and the fact that the nerves and heavy muscles of skeletal support may not have got fully activated.

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