Abomasal displacements cause economic loss in dairy herds
through treatment costs, premature culling, and production loss.
The condition is seen mainly in dairy cows in the first at 3 to 4
weeks after calving and its incidence can be reduced by good
management of animals in the weeks before and after parturition.
This bulletin discusses the risk factors for a displaced abomasum
(DA) along with steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of a DA.
The clinical signs and the techniques used for the management of
the condition are also covered.
The abomasum is the cow's true (fourth) stomach, located near
the floor of the abdominal cavity on the right side, below the
omasum (Figure 1). The rumen and reticulum are above and to the
left of the abomasum.
Figure 1 - Anatomy of the stomachs of the cow -
viewed from the right hand side
Left displacement of the abomasum (LDA) accounts for 80-90% of
all displacements. It occurs when the abomasum moves to the left of
its normal position, becoming trapped between the rumen and the
left abdominal wall. Stretching results in constriction of the
entrance to and exit from the abomasum and it fills with gas. In
the case of right displacement (RDA) the abomasum moves up the
right abdominal wall and becomes trapped above the omasum. Like
LDA, constriction of the outflow from the abomasum results in
accumulation of fluid and gas. However in addition a RDA can also
become twisted upon itself which results in more severe clinical
signs consistent with abdominal pain (elevated heart rate and signs
of colic). Right displacement is a more serious condition than LDA
and recovery rates are lower.
Up to 90% of LDAs occur within the first 4 weeks after calving.
Affected animals go off feed and become depressed. Producers will
frequently notice a drop in appetite and reduced milk production.
Symptoms often resemble ketosis with ketones in blood, milk, breath
and urine. Animals with right displacement can show more severe
signs including colic, elevated heart rate scant faeces and
diarrhoea; if a torsion occurs, animals can go downhill very
rapidly showing signs of severe shock with cold extremities and
Cows with a displaced abomasum will have decreased
appetite and milk production
The clinical signs above will lead producers to be highly
suspicious of an abdominal displacement, however further
investigation is required to distinguish a displacement from a case
of ketosis. If you suspect an animal has an LDA or RDA it is
worthwhile getting the animal examined by your vet as soon as
possible as rapid identification and treatment will speed recovery
and minimise the loss of milk production. Your veterinary
surgeon will listen over the abdomen with a stethoscope for the
presence of a pinging noise that sounds like a tap dripping into a
steel bucket. The pinging noise is indicative of a gas-filled
organ, which is almost certain to be a displaced abomasum.
Treatment of a displaced abomasum will require veterinary
assistance; it is beyond the scope of this bulletin to provide
detailed information on all the different treatment options
available, and your vet will advise as to the best course of action
for the treatment of a DA. Information is provided here for
guidance only and the method of treatment will depend on a number
The treatment of displaced abomasums can be either conservative
or surgical. Conservative management of LDAs involves casting
and rolling the cow. The action of rolling the cow helps manipulate
the abomasum so that it returns to its normal position. This can be
effective if done early, but about 50% of cases will relapse and
require surgical treatment. Rolling can be used in conjunction with
toggling, where a toggle is passed through the skin into the
abomasum whilst the cow is lying on her back. The toggle helps
anchor the abomasum in the correct position and reduces the relapse
rate when compared to rolling alone. Toggling is dependent on the
abomasum "floating" back into its correct position as the cow is
rolled and that gas remains in the organ long enough to enable the
vet to accurately locate its position and place the toggle.
Toggle for LDA repair
In many cases surgery is the method of choice for treatment of
displaced abomasums as it reduces the risk of recurrence and allows
assessment of the condition of the abomasum. There are a number of
different surgical techniques for the correction of abomasal
displacements and the method chosen will depend on your veterinary
surgeon. All the methods involve manipulating the abomasum back
into the correct position and then suturing it in place.
Surgery allows the abomasum to be returned to its
normal position and anchored in place
However a displacement is treated, it is important to manage the
animal correctly afterwards, to ensure the best possible recovery.
Animals should be given access to good quality forage and
concentrate feeding should be restricted.
So what causes abomasal displacement?
Although the exact cause is unknown, an association between
rumen fill and abdominal capacity is commonly assumed. Two main
risk factors for abdominal displacement have been implicated:
1. Calving: The majority of
cases occur soon after calving. During pregnancy the uterus
displaces the abomasum, so that after calving the abomasum has to
move back to its normal position, increasing the risk of
displacement. If feed (particularly forage) consumption declines
before or after calving, reduced fill may allow greater
Most LDAs occur within 1 month of
2. Atony of the abomasum: If the
abomasum stops contracting and turning over its contents (e.g.
because of disease), accumulation of gas will occur and the
abomasum will tend to move up the abdomen.
Prevention of abomasal displacement
The transition period occurring from the late dry period through
2 to 4 weeks postpartum is the major risk period for abomasal
displacements and it is essential that the cow is managed
appropriately throughout this time. The risk of abomasal
displacements can be reduced by ensuring good ruminal fill through
this period; this can be achieved by ensuring animals take in
appropriate quantities of good quality forage. The key points to
look at in order to reduce the risk of abomasal displacements are
- Ensure cattle are not too fat at calving (i.e. >3.5
- Feed high quality feeds, with good quality forage
- Feed a total mixed ration as opposed to large "slugs" of
- Ensure animals are able to get to their feed by making sure
there is plenty of trough space.
- Good nutritional management to minimise changes between late
dry and early lactation ration.
- Diseases immediately after calving can reduce feed intake so it
is important to prevent and promptly treat diseases such as milk
fever, metritis, toxic mastitis and retained afterbirth.
- Management practices should be aimed at maximising cow comfort
and minimising stress.
Management of diseases such as milk fever will help
reduce the chance of LDAs
Displaced abomasums are one of the most common reasons for
surgery on UK dairy farms, and whilst most animals will respond
well to treatment it should be the ultimate goal of producers to
minimise their occurrence. Left displaced abomasums are most
commonly seen in the first month after calving and by ensuring
appropriate feeding during this period it is possible to reduce the
chances of them occurring.