Abomasal Displacement

Abomasal displacement in cattle

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Cattle Diseases

Abomasal Displacement in Cattle

Also known as: Displaced Abomasum, LDA and RDA

Abomasal displacement is the most important disease associated with the abomasum in cattle, although risks to pasture-fed cattle are likely to be less than those in intensive concentrate-based systems. The displacement can be either left-sided or right-sided, with some differences in aetiology and therapy. Left sided displacement of the abomasum (LDA) is associated with a longer duration of disease, commonly occurs in the first 30 days of lactation and is often associated with metabolic or hepatic disease. Right sided displacement of the abomasum (RDA) is less common, can be associated with other gastro-intestinal disease and often presents as a more severe clinical condition (Wolf et al., 2001; Rohn et al., 2004). The condition is more common in high yielding, intensively fed dairy cows in late gestation or early lactation. The incidence during lactation of LDA is reported as 1.2% and RDA as 0.4% in German herds (Hamann et al., 2004), but in the US an incidence rate of 3.3% has been reported (Jordan and Fourdraine, 1993). In the UK (as in most other countries), the condition is most commonly seen as LDA, occurring sporadically in a dairy herd during the housing period in January-March. Sometimes outbreaks may involve several animals and can result in significant losses in milk production (Hamann et al., 2004) even in those animals successfully treated.

Whilst the aetiology of abomasal displacement is not clearly established and is probably of a multiple nature, mainly associated with reduced feed intake, abomasal gas production and abomasal atony, the following risk factors have been identified:

In Scandinavia, an association with high levels of root crops in the diet has also been made, particularly with RDA. It is believed that the soil on the root crops is the initial factor, causing ulceration of the stomach, leading to abomasal atony and displacement. An association with forestomach disorders, particularly foreign bodies (i.e. small fragments of wire) in the rumen-reticulum, has been reported as well (Yamada, 1982).

Individual Animal Factors Management / Herd Factors
Breed, sex, age, milk yield (although this could be indirect effect of nutrition), over-fat body condition at calving

Intercurrent diseases:

  • Ketosis (Clinical and sub-clinical)
  • Excessive fat mobilisation
  • Hypocalcaemia (Clinical and sub-clinical)
  • Retained foetal membranes
  • Periparturient infections including metritis and mastitis
  • Endotoxaemia
  • leading to reduced DMI

Parturition related problems:


  • Inadequate total fibre in the postpartum diet and/or inadequate fibre length
  • Unpalatable forage in non-TMR systems
  • Excessive concentrate feeding postpartum or rapid increase in level of concentrate around parturition without allowing rumen time to adapt
  • Vitamin E / Selenium deficiency

Poor feeding practices:

  • Failure to provide forage ad lib

Season – probably reflects management and forage quality rather than a true seasonal effect

TMR = total mixed ration; DMI = dry mater intake
(Table adapted from Barret, 2003).

Forage-based herds are less likely to experience problems with displaced abomasum, other than as sporadic cases secondary to milk fever or other diseases. Outbreaks associated with soil-contaminated root crop feeding are a possibility on farms where fodder beet is used in large quantities. However, one study indicated that herds that received fewer energy-rich carbohydrates in their diets than control herds experienced a higher incidence of displaced abomasum (Geishauser, 1996). Organic herds that have difficulties in meeting the energy requirements on home-grown diets immediately after calving might, therefore, be predisposed. Rumen acidosis can also occur on farms if structural fibre is lacking e.g., at turnout onto fresh grass.

Control and Prevention of Abomasal Displacement

Cows being eating through the feed barrier

Risks associated with abomasal displacement include intensive concentrate feeding, and not enough long fibre in the diet.

In cases of sporadic occurrence of abomasal displacement in a single cow, there is usually no need to change the existing feeding or management system. An isolated case is most likely to be of a secondary nature, due to milk fever, metritis or another disease that causes abomasal atony.

However, if one or several cases are diagnosed during consecutive housing periods, there is a need to investigate the potential causes of this, and improve feeding or management as needed.

The following measures have been recommended:

  • Provision of adequate long fibre in dry cow diet (preferably hay)
  • Provision of an adequate supply of palatable energy-rich carbohydrates in the diet, particularly immediately after calving
  • Provision of adequate daily exercise for dry cows
  • Gradual introduction of concentrates in the dry cow diet prior to calving (up to 2 kg /cow) but avoidance of “steaming up”
  • Limited amount of maize silage to dry cows
  • Avoidance of “peaking” the milk production in early lactation by increasing concentrate intake
  • Prevention of hypocalcaemia and ketosis in the periparturient period
  • Achieving the optimum body condition score at dry-off (2.5/5) and calving (2.5-3/5), to minimise condition score loss in the periparturient period to a maximum of 0.5 score (1-5 score).

Treating Abomasal Displacements

Once the diagnosis of displaced abomasum has been established, it is important to treat it as early as possible to avoid stomach ulceration and complications caused by associated secondary acetonaemia / ketosis.

Early surgical treatment with well-balanced fluid therapy is recommended as carrying a better prognosis (Rohn et al, 2004), but in some cases the condition may be relieved by rolling and exercise. Before undertaking surgical correction, a thorough clinical examination should be performed by a vet to establish any other underlying disease and to enable a better estimate of the prognosis. In spite of the high cost of surgical therapy, it should be attempted, as the prognosis is reasonable and the only alternative is slaughter (Petty, 1981; Varden, 1979; Vlaminck, 1996). Surgical treatment of LDA carries a better prognosis for recovery compared to RDA (Hamann et al, 2004).

Hay Bales

Hay in the dry cow diet can reduce the risk of abomasal displacement

Abomasal Displacement and Welfare

Abomasal displacement is potentially distressing, painful and life-threatening to cattle, and should be prevented by good feeding and management of housed cows during dry period and early lactation. In an outbreak, every effort should be made to establish the cause of the disease and to correct management and feeding accordingly.

Sporadic cases should be treated by a veterinarian as soon as a diagnosis has been established. Surgical treatment should not be delayed if conservative therapy fails.

Cows with ketosis/acetonaemia that do not respond to normal treatment should be checked by a veterinarian to rule out the possibility of a secondary ketosis due to displaced abomasum or other causes like fatty liver.

Good Practice Based on Current Knowledge

On established low input farms with milk yields below 6500 kg and the forage part of the diet above 60% of the dry matter (DM) intake, abomasal displacement is an unlikely problem. Good practice in preventing abomasal diseases needs to concentrate on dry cow management and, where root crops are fed in large quantities, on ensuring that soil contamination of the fodder is not excessive.

  • Specify measures for transition cow management in the herd health plan, preferably including advice from the farm’s veterinary surgeon
  • Provide an adequate amount of long fibre forage – preferably hay – during the dry period and early lactation, and avoid large quantities of maize silage as the main forage
  • Introduce concentrates gradually, starting two weeks before calving, up to 2 kg/cow by calving date
  • Do not attempt to “steam up” the cows before calving or “peak” them after calving
  • Provide an adequate amount of energy-rich carbohydrates immediately after calving
  • If fodder beet is heavily soiled, wash it before including it in the diet
  • If the farm has experienced recurring outbreaks or repeated sporadic cases during recent housing periods, it would be advisable to incorporate guidelines for prompt treatment and control into an Animal Health Plan including advice from the veterinary surgeon.
  • Identification and exclusion of the predisposing feeding and management practices should be included in the conversion plan (Barrett, 2003).


Abomasal Displacement References
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  • Livestock should be land-based and integrated with farm cropping enterprises
  • Animals should be provided with conditions that enable them to exhibit natural behaviours
  • Dependency on veterinary medicines should be reduced without jeopardising the well-being of animals


outdoor access

Animals having outdoor access, shade, shelter, lighting and sufficient space for them to undertake free movement and to exhibit natural behaviors.


Using breeds and strains well-suited and adapted to the prevailing conditions.

Health Plan

Implementing herd and flock planning based on sound ecological practices and epidemiological knowledge.


Undertaking good practice with regard to biosecurity.

closed herds

Maintaining animals in closed herds and flocks and at stocking rates that enables free-movement, reduces risks of disease spread and minimises environmental damage.

forage and grazing

Forage and grazing being the main source of nutrients for ruminants, and continuously available to non-ruminants.

production practices

Avoiding the use of mutilations as standard production practices.


Improved understanding and responsible usage of veterinary medicines.