How To Treat Cows That Can’t Stand Up

Do you know what a recumbent cow is? That is a cow lying down and cannot stand up on their own effort. Often we see animals lying down and cannot stand up on their own. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with their feet, their health or not because of having walked for a long distance. This condition can be caused by several reasons and we will see how to treat cows that can’t stand up in this article.  If this happens to only 1 animal, then we can pay attention individually. However, if it happens to many animals at the same time, we can suspect that the possible reasons are caused by something they together have, like plant poisoning or something wrong with the water they drink together. Or it might be caused by an epidemic.

The condition where cows lying down for more than a normal period should not be put aside. They have to stand up to restore normal blood flow in their leg muscles. If they can’t rise after some times, they will likely to have permanent muscle damage.

Please read Cattle Diseases That Cause Weight Loss and How To Increase Appetite In Cattle which are very useful for cattle farmers.

The cows experiencing this condition usually called as downer cows. This term is to describe the cattle which unable to walk or to stand because they are too weak, sick or too injured to do that physical action.

We are going to discuss how to treat cows that can’t stand up from the cause, the signs, the treatment, and the prevention


1. Malnutrition

Do not ever consider malnutrition lightly. This can result with such a huge impact on your cattle. Either their productivity decreased or their health damaged. Not only because you feed your cow too little, but also because of the poor quality of the feed, you give to your cattle. Or it can be both. This usually occurs during dry winter, drought or when the veldt is overgrazed.

Not only humans but also animals will need extra nutrition during pregnancy. If pregnant cows are experiencing malnutrition, the risks will be very high and severe. They need high-quality nutrition. They need a lot of protein and energy to maintain their health. Poor quality feed doesn’t provide what they need. They will gradually lose weight till they can’t stand up nor walk even for a short distance. As they are weak and suffering from malnutrition, the danger of being infected by other diseases are very high. Their immune system won’t be able to keep them healthy.

2. Pregnancy and related problems

Having labor can cause damage to your cow. Sometimes nerves which are inside the thighs in both rear legs can be injured if they are having difficulties in delivering their calf. Sometimes the attendant who is trying to help by pulling the calf out can injure the mother cow if they do it roughly.

If that happens, the mother cow can be found out it ‘frog position’. Their thigh muscles are bruised because of hard deliveries from an oversized calf. The other nerve injury is when the animals lying down for a long period.

3. Fever

Fever which is caused by diseases can weaken your cow and be resulted in recumbency. For examples are the infection of the womb and udder, and parasites in the blood.

4. Bone, joint and feet problems

Problems related to your cow’s bone, joint and feet may cause them unable to stand up on their own. Broken bones, arthritis, spinal problem, dislocated hips will make them lie down and can’t rise.

5. Plant poisoning

This can happen when animals being poisoned by the plants they eat. It usually occurs during spring when poisoned plants grown among other first green plants. The poisoning can also occur after sudden changes in weather. The fresh green plants attract animals to feed. And some of them are toxic when the plants are in the growing period.

Different kind of poisons affects different systems of the body. Some will cause recumbency, some will cause diarrhea. Tulp is one of the plants that paralyze the cattle as it attacks nerves and muscles. Other plants which affect the brain, lungs, and heart will also put the animals to lie down.

6. Deficiencies

Mineral deficiencies can bring your cattle to lie down and unable to rise. What kind of minerals which can affect the animals like that? They are magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus. It seems like trivial but the effect of a mineral shortage is quite huge for the animals.

Lack of calcium will bring great effect on cows who just given birth. The muscles and legs will start shaking due to this deficiency and they will have a hard time walking and even rising. If you don’t treat it very soon (less than 12 hours), your cow will die. Phosphorus shortage will cause the cows to eat any strange objects like plastics, dead body, feces, etc

7. Milk Fever

This is the most common thing to happen to dairy cattle.  The cows which are treated with calcium immediately will be healed though some won’t. If you treat your cows a bit late, the harm done to the muscles can be too severe. The possibility of unable to stand again is very high.

8. Trauma or Injuries

Do not underestimate trauma or injuries happen to your cattle. Calving paralysis can take place as soon as after the delivery. This is a hard time delivery of a large calf which harms the nerves in rear legs as the calf passes the pelvic canal. Not only from labor, but some accidents and bone injuries may also become the reason of the downer cows. Cows being ridden can have damage spine.


Whatever the reasons why a cow goes down and unable to rise, they should get help immediately, it should be within the first 24 hours. If not, the chances of ever standing again are very small. After being down for a few hours, their muscles in the rear legs will be severe damage due to their heavy weight. The blood flow is not carried as much as needed. The blood from the heart is distributed normally but the blood doesn’t return to the heart normally and it will raise the blood pressure within the muscle. The cells begin to die, the swelling is common to be seen and it is called as compartment syndrome. Cows are too heavy to lie on their muscles without getting up after several hours.


Usually, when we spot a cow goes down, we would suspect of milk fever and treat the cows with calcium. But if she doesn’t get up within 2 hours, we should do a further examination to check on her condition.

However, if the cow goes down because of fracture or infection, it is very urgent to treat the cow immediately and make her standing again. Because even if we treat the problem, if the cow lies down for 24 hours or more, they aren’t likely to rise again.

Downer cows should be positioned sitting up. Don’t let them lie down on their side as it will speed up muscle damages. If you need to move the cow, do it as humanely as possible. You can roll the cow very gently or pull with tractors. Cows should not be dragged on the ground using a forklift or skid steer.

You may also use hip lifters or hip clamps as long as the cow can stand on her front legs. Put the large slings or belly bands to support their body weight in lifting the cow into standing position. Downer cows should be examined daily to check if there is any sign showing their ability to stand. It is hard for them to recover if there is no sign of movement within three or four days after being moved with good footing. When your cow shows depression, loss of appetite, developing ulcers or erosions on her legs and losing their stamina and immune, euthanasia is usually advised.

Other treatments to be advised are:

  • Enough nutrition. Provide good quality feed and clean water. It is recommended to give them multivitamin shots.
  • Move the animals to shaded places if the sun heat is directly shining to the cow. Clean the bedding regularly to keep it hygiene, warn, dry and clean.
  • Change body position during day and night to minimize muscle damage and to avoid any sores on the hip bones.
  • Daily therapy to make the cow stand by supporting the animal underbody with your hand and gets help from someone else too. Lift the body for a few minutes then let it down again.

For beginners in a cattle farm, you should look into 5 Things You Should Know Before Starting a Cattle Farm and How To Do Cattle Farming for Beginner. You will have in-depth knowledge from those related links.