Investigating the effect of dexamethasone on productivity, immune function, and behavior in dystocic periparturient dairy cattle

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Virginia Tech


Dairy cows are increasingly predisposed to diseases in the periparturient time period due in part to immunosuppression. Dystocia amplifies the disease risk due to the increased tissue trauma and stress the animal endures during the lengthened parturition. To decrease the increased inflammatory response seen in dystocic animals and improve their well-being in the postpartum period, we administered either a potent steroid, dexamethasone (DEX), or a saline control (CON) to cows within 12 hours after a dystocic parturition. The inflammatory marker haptoglobin was measured as well as behavioral and production measures. We observed that primiparous DEX cows exhibited a greater haptoglobin concentration on d 3 and d 7 postpartum compared to primiparous CON cows. Behavior was seen to be altered between the treatments, with DEX cows having reduced locomotion and increased lying times in the week following parturition. These measures could indicate pain reduction, suggesting improved comfort. Milk yield was affected, with a reduction of 7.3 kg/d in multiparous DEX cows in comparison to CON cows for almost the entirety of the first month following dexamethasone treatment. No treatment effects were seen for milk production of primiparous cows. Additional research is needed for further investigation of the immunological and production effects of steroids on postpartum dairy cows, especially between parities.



dystocia, dexamethasone, postpartum, animal well-being