Treating Bloat In Cattle With Baking Soda & Other Methods

The rumen is the part of a cow’s digestive system where food is stored to be brought back up and chewed (ruminated) later. Sometimes, gas can become trapped in this part of the bovine digestive system. When this happens, the rumen become swollen because of the gas.

This can be an extremely dramatic occurrence, in fact, you can actually see the rumen swelling as the amount of gas rapidly increases. When this happens, the swollen rumen presses against the cow’s lungs.

Luckily, you can help your cow or bull in the early stages of bloat. There are several ways to relieve bovine bloat. It’s important that you understand the symptoms so that you can recognize them early on, gather your supplies be ready to assist your bovine.

Read on to learn more on treating bloat in cattle with baking soda.

What Are The Symptoms Of Bovine Bloat?

symptoms of bovine bloat

Your cow or bull’s belly will swell up tremendously, especially on the left-hand side, which is where the rumen is located. You may also begin to see labored breathing and other signs of distress including outstretched back legs, sweating and drooling.

Signs and symptoms are isolated to the front half of the cow. Scours (diarrhea) is not a sign of bovine bloat.

Lack of oxygen causes the cow to fall over where she will lie on her side with stiff, straight legs. Without assistance, she will suffocate. In extreme cases, the distended rumen may also press on the cow’s heart causing death.

Another complication which may arise is called “twisted abomasum”. When this happens, the cow’s true stomach (last chamber in the stomach) rotates or twists. This blocks all digestion, and usually results in death.

What Should You Do?

For simple gas bloat, which is also known as feedlot bloat or dry bloat, you can try using bicarbonate of soda (a.k.a. baking soda.)

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A standard, small box of baking soda
  • A quart of water or vegetable oil
  • A long necked 12 ounce bottle

Here’s what you’ll do:

  1. Mix half the box of baking soda with the vegetable oil or water.
  2. Decant the mixture into the 12 ounce bottle.
  3. With one hand, secure the cow’s head. With the other, slip the bottle into the gap between the cow’s front teeth and her back teeth.
  4. Hold her head up a little bit, not too much. An excessive slant will cause her to aspirate the liquid.
  5. Gradually pour the entire 12 ounce bottle of baking soda mixture down the cow’s throat.

TIP: Use a plastic condiment bottle, such as a Worcestershire sauce bottle to administer the mixture. Don’t use a glass bottle as this may break and cause injury to yourself and/or the cow.

Be Observant!

Observe your cow carefully. This baking soda mixture should dissolve the gassy foam that is causing bloating in her rumen. You’ll still have about half your mixture left, and you can give a second dose if the cow is not showing significant signs of relief within half an hour.

During this time, your cow should burp copiously to relieve the pressure on the rumen. You can assist in this process by massaging around the rumen. Stroke firmly from your cow’s abdomen to her spine.

Drastic Measures May Be Necessary!

If your cow’s condition is extremely advanced and she is suffering greatly, or if the baking soda method simply doesn’t work, you may need to make an incision in her hide to allow the excess gas to escape.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A 14 to 16 gauge bore needle 1 1/2 inches long
  • A large syringe

You can purchase large needles and syringes from your local feed store. It’s a good idea to have these on hand so you don’t have to make an emergency trip.

Here’s what you’ll do:

Your goal is to puncture a hole beneath the last large rib and just in front of the sublumbar fossa. This is the soft triangle which lies between the end of the cow’s ribs and the start of the pelvic hooks. This is the area that looks slightly hollow on a healthy cow, especially when she is thirsty.

Keep in mind that your cow’s hide is very tough and thick, and the rumen is extremely bouncy when it is full of gas. To puncture this hole, you’ll need to hold your syringe with needle as if it were a dagger. Aim carefully and stab hard.

If you are successful, you will immediately hear the gas hissing through the syringe. Your cow should show signs of relief right away.

It can take quite a bit of time for all of the gas to be released. If you stop hearing hissing before your cow or bull has returned to its normal size, try depressing the syringe plunger and pulling it up again. It may have become clogged.

Some ranchers simply use a pocketknife to make this incision as shown in this video.

Intubation May Work

It may be necessary to insert a tube into your cow’s esophagus. If you’re going to do this, it’s important you know exactly where the esophagus is. You do not want to accidentally insert the tube into your cow’s windpipe!

Normal, flexible three-quarter inch tubing, which you can purchase at your local hardware store, will work fine. Be sure to use a file to smooth off any rough edges on the end of the tube that will pass through the cow’s esophagus.

You’ll probably need a helper to slide the tube down the cow’s throat. One person should hold the cow’s mouth open while the other inserts the tube. If you’re on your own, you may be able to prop her mouth open using a block of wood.

After you guide the tube over your cow’s tongue, she should begin swallowing it. This will help ensure that is going down the esophagus and not windpipe.

Don’t allow the cow to chew on the tube. Keep it moving steadily down the esophagus until it reaches the top of the rumen. At this point, gas will rush out explosively and disgustingly.

When Do You Need The Vet?

There is another type of bloat known as pasture bloat, wet bloat or frothy bloat. This is a very serious type of bloat that needs veterinary assistance.

If your cow does not recover quickly after treatment with baking soda, or if you see a great deal of froth in your syringe or coming out through the intubation tube, you should call your vet immediately.

In any event, monitor your cow closely for twenty-four hours after treatment. If any complications arise, you should call your vet right away.

How Do You Prevent Bovine Bloat?

how do you prevent bovine bloat

Overfeeding is usually the cause of bloating. Feedlot bloat or dry bloat is caused by excessive consumption of grain, hay cubes or hay.

Additionally, if your cow eats lawn trimmings, this can result in gas bloat because the shortcut fibers become packed inside the rumen and do not process properly.

Additionally, cattle who have recently been shipped or are otherwise under stress are subject to dry bloat, and cattle who have been presented with unfamiliar water and refuse to drink will develop dry bloat.

To prevent dry bloat, be sure to feed your cattle the right amount. Keep their living conditions as stress-free as possible. Introduce new feed gradually, and if moving cattle from one location to another, bring along enough water to transition them.

Pastured cattle will develop wet bloat or pasture bloat in the springtime when grass is especially lush.

To prevent pasture bloat, you can purchase a product called “Bloat Blocks”. These can be positioned around the pasture early in the springtime before the new grass grows in.

If your cattle have been kept up through the winter, be sure to feed them their regular days’ ration of hay before turning them out into early pasture. Limit their grazing time early in the season.

If you’re looking for more tips & tricks, read my article about worming your cattle.

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Farm & Animals since 2019. Farm animals have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.

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