From Cow
Dystocia in a Friesian cow due to cow-calf size mismatch

Dystocia is defined as a difficult birth. It is the most common reproductive disorder of cows and a major cause of deaths in cows and calves.

Studies indicate that animals experiencing dystocia while delivering a live calf may have decreased rebreeding rates.

Although the majority of dystocia in cows is caused by maternal/fetal disproportion, other causes include:

  • Maternal causes
- poor nutrition
- poor doer (e.g. bovine respiratory disease)[1]
- pelvic injuries
- milk fever
- abnormal position of the calf during delivery
- incomplete dilation of the cervix
- in vitro fertilisation[2]
- uterine inertia, uterine torsion[3], uterine prolapse
- vaginal prolapse
- sciatic and tibial nerve injury[4]
- twin calfs
  • Fetal causes
- fetal mummification
- arthrogryposis multiplex
- achondrogenesis
- anasarca - including hydrallantois and hydramnios
- arthrogryposis multiplex
- complex vertebral malformation
- congenital chondrodystrophy
- contractural arachnodactyly (Fawn calf syndrome)
- double muscling

Dystocic cows present in labor with no or little calf movement despite continued uterine contractions.

Treatment is critical since calves exposed to dystocia at birth have double the rate of death compared with calves born from a normal calving[5]. Veterinary intervention has shown to markedly incrased calf survival rates and cow rebreeding[6]. In cases of severe parturition problems, calving mortality rates increase up to 50%[7].

Resolving dystocia is aimed at addressing the underlying cause of dystocia and removing the calf expediently to minimize calf and cow death as well as future breeding prospects for the cow.

Intervention of dystocia should commence within one hour of the appearance of the amniotic sac or feet outside the vulva[8]. Dairy calves born following difficult calvings have lower vigour and may take longer to commence normal feeding behaviour[9].


  1. Stanton AL et al (2012) The effect of respiratory disease and a preventative antibiotic treatment on growth, survival, age at first calving, and milk production of dairy heifers. J Dairy Sci 95(9):4950-4960
  2. Pimenta-Oliveira A et al (2011) Morbidity-mortality and performance evaluation of Brahman calves from in vitro embryo production. BMC Vet Res 7:79
  3. Erteld E et al (2012) Uterine torsion in cattle - frequency, clinical symptoms and theories about the pathogenesis. Tierarztl Prax Ausg G Grosstiere Nutztiere 40(3):167-175
  4. Garz B (2011) Tibial nerve paresis in eight dairy cows: symptomatic therapy with a synthetic resin cast. Tierarztl Prax Ausg G Grosstiere Nutztiere 39(1):7-14
  5. Azizzadeh M et al (2012) Factors affecting calf mortality in Iranian Holstein dairy herds. Prev Vet Med 104(3-4):335-340
  6. Hickson RE et al (2012) A survey detailing the calving performance of primiparous 2-year-old beef heifers and outcomes of assisted calving. N Z Vet J 60(1):35-41
  7. Streyl D et al (2011) Establishment of a standard operating procedure for predicting the time of calving in cattle. J Vet Sci 12(2):177-185
  8. Schuenemann GM et al (2011) Assessment of calving progress and reference times for obstetric intervention during dystocia in Holstein dairy cows. J Dairy Sci 94(11):5494-5501
  9. Barrier AC et al (2012) Effect of a difficult calving on the vigour of the calf, the onset of maternal behaviour, and some behavioural indicators of pain in the dam. Prev Vet Med 103(4):248-256