Mature cow having fits

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Well-known member
Feb 28, 2007
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Aotearoa - New Zealand
I have a 10.5yr old Angus cow which is having increasingly frequent fits - I know of four so far, the first when her calf was about eight weeks old back in December, the next I saw (with no evidence seen of any in the mean time) three weeks ago, another eight days ago and the last this morning.

A vet has checked her out physically and pronounced her perfectly fit in every other way, all blood levels are within normal range.

Vet is suggesting brain tumour, some other degenerative neurological condition, some storage disorder which is affecting brain function.

Has anyone any experience of this sort of thing?

The cow is in as safe an area as I can keep her, but that doesn't stop her standing near the electric fences and then falling over into, or through, them. I will probably need to do something about her within the next week or two. She's a valuable cow, in a number of ways.
I'll check that Listeriosis was tested for. She's on grass only, with the occasional bit of molasses when she gets to it before the milking cow in the morning.
The symptoms don't fit easily with anything caused by disease or trace element problems. She quickly goes into a trembling state, falls down, is not really conscious of her surroundings, and that phase lasts for three or four minutes. Then she gets up, stumbles around with odd steps - stands on her own feet or lifts her feet oddly to walk - appears not to be able to see for a minute or so, recovers over the next half an hour to completely normal and continues her life as usual. There are no signs of anything amiss between fits.
That is strange.. sounds like neurological to me also. A few years back we had a holstein cow, 5 years old, that staggered and fell into fences like you're talking about. Turned out she had ketosis. Of course she only had it the one time.

If her blood levels all look to be normal, that's about the only other thing it could be. It's always hard when you have to make decisions for problems like that.
i'm guessing here, shot in the the dark, last words anyone wants to hear....BSE....and as far as i know, there is only one way to test for it. Shoot it, dig into the brain, (vet required) and send in a sample for testing.
There is apparently a BSE Surveillance programme here, which will subsidise the visit of a vet to administer a lethal dose of the appropriate drug so the brain may be removed intact for examination.
I'd rather there was something we hadn't thought of which could keep her alive and healthy though.

I ought to clarify that the surveillance programme operates to continue to prove the absence of BSE in this country. :)
I have a friend that had an epileptic dog. Up against BSE, an epileptic cow doesn't sound to bad. Just throwing out ideas.
Okay, I was going to mention the surveillance programme. We had one older cow (7 yr) go blind and a couple of younger ones having fits like you describe, but it's supposed to be really uncommon in older cattle and it was a brief flurry - not spread out over months.
I was a bit surprised there was no mention of testing our heifer for BSE given the symptoms... the vets diagnosed polio.

It does sound neurological. If her biochemistry is normal then that also points toward neurological. Epilepsy is a possibility. My Grandmother had a dog that developed epilepsy in old age after he was attacked by another dog. Does she seem stiff in her legs after her fits? When she has fully recovered does she have the appearance of a normal cow? The most common reason seizures happen in livestock is due to consumption of a toxin. But it's weird that she's the only one. Because she's the only one it sounds like a non-viral, non-contagious condition.
I agree all of the previous mentioned things are worth looking at, but I'd be leaning to neurological something. And I'll throw in another possibility - mild strokes? Ten is not ancient for a cow but its not exactly young either.
But for it to happen so close together is unusual. Mind you strokes like that would point towards a tumour anyway... you know, stroke as a symptom as oppose to the stoke as the cause...
I heard from a friend once about a cow that had 3 strokes, a week between each, but they increased in severity and after the third she had to be put down.

I'm purely guessing here :???: but either way it doesnt sound good ...
The first time I saw her have a seizure, she looked like she was trying to lower herself down between her front legs, and splaying them out to the sides to allow that. She stayed on her feet the whole time, although at one point it looked like she was going to lose all control. One ear kept twitching, lots of her muscles all over her body twitched as she gradually regained control of her legs and then started wandering around in a circle. She seemed unaware of her calf a few feet in front of her, calling to him as if he weren't nearby. She was weak and slow for a while (half hour or so) after apparent recovery.

In the second instance she'd walked down a lane and into a paddock with the rest of her mob, then I spotted her collapsed onto the electric fence. She was twitching all over, eventually got to her feet, but again appeared unaware of her surroundings, couldn't walk properly, kept standing on her own feet as she moved. She was quite determined to follow the rest of the cows, so perhaps her general awareness was greater than I thought. She took no notice of me trying to wave her off in another direction - but she's a determined cow on a good day anyway.

Third time she fell into a drain through the electric fence; I didn't see anything and she was well recovered by the time we found her.

This morning I found her while she was still in recovery, she was lifting and stamping one front foot down in a strange manner and lifted and plopped them down oddly as I moved her along the lane - I was concerned to get her back into a safe area for fear she'd fall over into a drain. I didn't realise how affected she still was until I was getting her to move. I'd gone out to investigate a lot of cattle noise, which in retrospect was probably in response to her activities - it was too misty this morning to see very far before I got there. She'd obviously gone down on one side again, mud all over one side of her head again, through another fence. I wish she'd stay away from the fences!

I've wondered about epilepsy and strokes. Because she behaves entirely normally between these events, I can't see that they could be caused by anything which is present all the time. But I am not a vet.

Thanks for all your thoughts. This is very much about my own process in moving toward a seemingly inevitable conclusion. She's the first pedigree cow born in my ownership and has played a huge part in my farming life. She has also fortunately been an excellent cow in production and disposition and I shall miss her very much. If there were any hope of there being some treatable explanation, I wanted to try to find it.
I'm sorry. Did the vet talk to you any more about it?

If she has some sort of awareness then it doesn't sound like epilepsy. If she's the only one affected it's unlikely to be a toxin. If it's more than one stroke then it isn't likely to be air/fat or a blood blockage. It doesn't sound like its something that's directly affecting a region of the brain because it isn't constant. The more I think about it a stroke as a result of a tumour sounds likely.

But like you, I'm not a vet.
She's unaware during the actual seizure. It is during the recovery that her awareness is hard to gauge.

I spoke at some length with the vet, but his view is that there's little we can do to discover the cause of the problem before her death if it's in her brain.

There are some toxic plants around, like Tutu and Ragwort, but she's had no access to either in the last couple of weeks since I retired her to the safest paddock available.
Putangitangi":2xkuhylc said:
Thanks for all your thoughts. This is very much about my own process in moving toward a seemingly inevitable conclusion. She's the first pedigree cow born in my ownership and has played a huge part in my farming life. She has also fortunately been an excellent cow in production and disposition and I shall miss her very much. If there were any hope of there being some treatable explanation, I wanted to try to find it.

I'm so sorry :frowns: I know these particular situations are just so hard.

I figure, the emotion invested in this cow, the best thing you can do for her is to make her as comfortable as possible for now, while she still wants to live, and make the call to the vet when you know she's ready to pass. She'll let you know when she needs it.
This is one of those cases where a bullet is the logical solution. If she was within a month or so of calving I would wait till then but put her down as soon as she calved.
Time to use your BSE surveillance that is in place for your country ,if it is anything like ours you will get a small cheque for your participation. It does not compensate for the loss of the cow but I do believe it is best to find BSE cases than lie and bury them. Only until we all make changes in our industry as a whole will we be able to get that live test available for all of us .

Our age limit has been changed to 3-7 yrs old unless they have symptoms like your cow has .

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