Pet Factsheets

Client Factsheets > Cattle > Nursing a sick cow

< Back to search

CONTRIBUTOR(S): Vetstream Ltd, Paul Wood,

Nursing a sick cow

Nursing a sick cow

The advice below applies to an adult animal that is under veterinary care and these notes are designed to complement advice from your veterinary surgeon. If you have any concerns about an animal under your care, then please seek veterinary advice promptly.

Sunken eye in a dehydrated cow ©Mo Kemp

What do sick animals need?


Your veterinarian can advise you as to what type of fluid therapy is most appropriate. Options include intravenous (into a vein), subcutaneous (under the skin), stomach-tubing or oral fluids.

All animals should be provided with access to clean, fresh water, in addition to any fluids provided. Some animals will not like the taste of electrolytes and so they may drink nothing at all if this is all that is offered. Ensure that water is easy for the animal to reach.

Keep all water buckets clean and do not share them with other animals, as the sick animal may be infectious.


Ensure fresh food is available and easy to reach, offer ad-lib roughage and remove stale, uneaten feed. Replace fresh food at least twice daily.

Keep all feed containers clean and do not share them with other animals.


Ensure the animal is protected from the weather and is warm, dry and comfortable. A clean, deep, straw bed is ideal. If outside, protection from inclement weather should be considered.

Correct temperature

A healthy adult bovine can maintain their correct body temperature in environments ranging from -15-25°C/5-77°F.  However, sick animals may be unable to regulate their temperature effectively. A hypothermic, or cold, animal should be housed at the higher end of this temperature range and will benefit from heat lamps, straw bedding etc to achieve this. Take a rectal temperature if you’re not sure if the animal is hypothermic. The normal rectal temperature range for adult cattle is 38-39°C/100.4-102.2°F.

Ensure there are no draughts; straw bales can be effective draught excluders.

In hot weather, ensure shade is provided and consider whether a fan would be helpful.


A clean, deep, straw bed is ideal.

Recumbent animals

Recumbent animals require additional care.

Pain relief and medications

Give all medications as prescribed by your veterinary surgeon. Animals are more likely to eat, drink and recover if they are pain free and comfortable, so effective pain relief is in important part of recovery.

Urinating and defaecating

Ensure that the animal is able to pass urine and feces (call your veterinary surgeon if they are unable to pass urine or feces).

Remove dirty bedding promptly, to keep the animal clean and dry and reduce fly activity.
Dispose of bedding carefully, being mindful that it may be soiled with material that could be infectious to other animals.

If the animal has diarrhoea or is recumbent and soiling itself, then consider cleaning off fecal matter with clean water to prevent the skin become scalded and to minimize fly activity.

Company and care

Gentleness, patience and TLC can go a long way. If cattle are handled calmly and quietly, they are more likely to respond well to handling, feeding and interventions.

An unwell animal may be vulnerable to bullying behaviour from dominant herd mates; ensure they are penned separately for their safety and to ensure access to food and water. Cattle are herd animals and will feel more secure if they are close to other animals and ideally within sight and sound of herd mates.


A full udder will rapidly become uncomfortable and could lead to mastitis. Ensure lactating cattle are milked twice daily.

Scroll to top