Ask the Vet

Retained Placenta Causes and Treatments

Herd nutrition and mineral programs can increase instances of retained placenta in the herd. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Dan Miller)


We had several cows with retained placentas last year. They eventually passed, but what should we do in these cases? Our old vet used to come out, flush the uterus and give antibiotics. He has retired, and the closest veterinarian is a long way away.


Our recommendation is to not use antibiotics for at least three days, assuming the cow is not sick. We often recommend an injection of Lutalyse or another prostaglandin. These drugs cause uterine contraction and help expel the placenta.

A mild, controlled infection in the attachment sites of the placenta and the uterus may actually help the placenta release. Never try to pull the placenta out. Gravity will put gentle, constant pressure on the placenta. By pulling it, you may leave small parts attached; they will take longer to pass and are more likely to create a serious infection.

While there is a lot of evidence against routine uterine infusion, I still feel they can be helpful in some cases. Oral or intravenous fluids, and other supportive measures may also be indicated if the cow is not eating. Cows with a rectal temperature of 102.5°F to 103°F (or above) likely need more aggressive treatment by a veterinarian.

Cases like this can often be handled more efficiently and cost effectively if the animal is hauled to the veterinarian's office. As more and more producers become concerned about access to a large-animal vet, I would ask that, where it makes sense, they consider this approach to treatment.

Lastly, when there are problems with retained placentas, take a look at your herd nutrition and mineral program, as well as overall health. Cows that are too fat, too thin or have mineral deficiencies are more prone to many retained placentas. Pay special attention to vitamins A and E, selenium and iodine.

Other factors that can increase the incidence of retained placentas include disease (brucellosis, leptospirosis, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis and bovine viral diarrhea), toxic plants and difficult births. Retained placentas are more common with reproductive problems including twins and prolonged and difficult births. Bull selection and heifer development can be another important preventive step in this area.