Prolapsed Uterus or Schistosome?
May 2023

Is it a bird or is it a plane?

Is it a prolapsed uterus or is it a schistosome?

During calving time, it is not uncommon to get sent to a ‘prolapsed uterus’, only to find it’s not a uterus but the insides of a calf.

What is a schistosome?!

Officially called Schistosomas reflexus; this is a rare and fatal congenital abnormality of ruminants resulting in inversion of the spine and ribs (bending backwards in reverse). This often means the skin cannot close over the abdominal organs and they are left exposed. The joints are often fused and not easily manipulated, and the hind legs are often folded back towards the head. Interestingly, despite all these abnormalities, the calf often remains alive while inside the cow due to the placental connection delivering oxygen and nutrients.

Due to the spine position (the calf is essentially folded in half backwards) and fused joints, the calf cannot normally pass through the pelvic canal without assistance. Presentation of these mutants are usually one of two forms:

  • Abdominal contents first - this form is most commonly confused for a prolapsed uterus. The calf’s intestines, and sometimes even the liver, are protruding from the vulva. Your first thought might be the cow’s intestines are coming out after a rough calving but thankfully (the majority of the time), it will be this mutant schistosome calf presenting for birth.
  • Feet first - initially these can appear to be normal presentation with two feet and a head, but labour is not progressing as it normally should. You often have another two feet which you could easily assume as a twin. You can spend a lot of time trying to push these extra two feet away, and they just don’t move.

But fear not, we can help! Call your vet, and we can use our fetotomy skills to remove the calf in pieces. Some can be removed with as little as one or two cuts, with a great outcome for the cow. However, some of these can be extremely complicated (many of you will have some stories) and caesarean may be the best option for the cow.  If you suspect a schistosome calf, please don’t assume it is not worth calling your vet, the majority of the time we get a good outcome for the cow.

To distinguish the difference between a uterine prolapse and a schistosome:

-  Does it appear like one big pink/red sack? Often there are big dark red ‘buttons’ on the outside. This would be a uterine prolapse

-  Are there long spaghetti loops of intestines? Possibly even a dark maroon mass (calf’s liver)? This would be a Schistosome calf.