How hard is hardware disease


As a farmer is walking through his field one morning, he spots a little bit of rusty woven wire that has been knocked from the fence. He keeps walking by and does not think anything else of the woven wire piece. Why would he? It's just a little piece of metal right, no damage will be done; he can always pick it back up the next time he comes through? Wrong, metal, of any kind that has been left out in the field with livestock is a danger to the animal as well as the farmer. This is because the animal could possibly consume the metal and contract what many animal scientists know as hardware disease. Hardware disease can strike any ruminant at any time after the metal is consumed. If the metal is in the right place at the wrong time the farmer loses his livestock. The owner needs to be aware of the definition, signs, treatment and prevention of hardware disease for their animals. Some questions that a farmer may have when raising cattle and worrying about hardware disease can be how will this affect the cattle that are raised? Will the animal's performance go down? How costly is this disease? How fast can the animal be affected by the disease? Is it treatable? How can the farmer prevent hardware disease? Does the disease affect cattle that are a certain age, or does it matter?

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When it comes to hardware disease many individuals are not really sure what it is. Hardware disease in layman's terms can be classified as a disease where the animal ingests a metal object into their reticulum. Once the metal gets into the reticulum, it becomes hard to dislodge and will often time stay there in the cow until it dies of natural causes. Sometimes though, the bovine that ingests metal will have a serious problem very fast. The animal, if the hardware does get lodged into the reticulum has a chance in puncturing the reticulum. If this does happen of course the animal will have some sort of infection sooner or later. The animal could also die, quickly. According to the University of Missouri often times hardware disease is caused by any form of a sharp object that makes its way through the stomach wall and finds its way to the heart (UoM 1993). Once the cattle ingest the foreign object, usually something like a nail or a small piece of wire that is left after a fencing job, it may finds its way to the heart therefore killing the animal in a painful manner (UoM 1993). More often than not you can usually find the object in the chamber of the stomach known as the reticulum (UoM 1993). The reticulum is the part of the cow's stomach that is like a baseball glove it catches all of the foreign material that should not go through a cow's intestinal system but allows feed to pass through (UoM 1993). Once the cow moves or does something to cause any type of muscle contraction the foreign object may be forced through the wall which may cause penetration to the diaphragm and or heart sac (UoM 1993).

Hardware disease is the common name for traumatic gastritis and traumatic reticulates. Cows that have traumatic gastritis are classified into three groups, sub-acute local, chronic and acute diffuse type. As of right now there are two types of treatment for traumatic gastritis conservative and rumenotomy. A cow that has acute diffuse peritonitis has a very high chance of being fatal, but if it is treated with antibiotics through an intra-peritoneal injection may have a slight chance of recovery (Yoshida 1984). Traumatic reticulates is usually found in older cattle where a piece of foreign object penetrates the wall of the reticulum during the remastication process (Traumatic Reticulitis 2007). Next infections spread along the object to areas around the abdomen, producing abscess and adhesions, in some cases the object will go through the chest allowing for there to be abscess in the chest, and during severe cases the infection goes to the outside of the heart. (Traumatic Reticulitis 2007)

But some still refer to its scientific name of Traumatic reticuloperitionitis, and is actually not a disease at all. According to Oregon State, and West Virginia University, Hardware disease is a mechanical injury to the reticulum that is caused when a bovine ingest sharp metal objects such as nails, screws, and small pieces of wire (OSU 2009, WVU). Basically, the animal will ingest the metal out in a field or in a hay bale. For hardware disease to take affect the animal has to ingest the metal. Although, the animal can ingest sharp plastic objects as well as sharp rocks or other objects and hardware disease will be the result. Basically, anything that is hard, sharp and pointy could penetrate through the animal and cause hardware disease. The Merck Veterinary Manual explains it like this, when cattle ingest bits of foreign objects in the form of nail, wire, plastic, or anything else that can puncture a hole in the side of the reticulum. The objects move into the reticulum or are able to slip past and move into the rumen. They are then pushed over the ruminoreticular fold by contractions. The objects end up in the reticulo-omasal orifice is where the foreign object tends to contain heavier objects located in the reticulum, while shape object often get stuck in the honeycomb-like reticulas mucosa traps (Merck Veterinary Manual 2008).

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The University of Missouri extensive services states that 55 to 75 percent of cattle slaughtered in the eastern part of the United States were found to have hardware in their system. (UoM 1993) It is a wonder that not all cattle have a problem with hardware disease. This just concludes that hardware may be in the system of the cattle but not produce any damage to the digestive tract. This is no reason for the farmer not to clean up his fields. There is always a chance that the cattle will not have a problem, but then again there is always a chance that there will. No one should take the chance like that with their animals.

        For the cow, when it ingests a foreign object the actions that the stomach takes may force the object through the reticulum wall (Thomas 1998). The danger of this is that once the foreign object such as a nail, piece of wire or even a shape rock makes its way through the wall it has a high chance of puncturing a vital organ (Thomas 1998). When it comes to seeing signs of hardware disease it depends on the place that the object penetrates. During the early stages of hardware disease, during the first day the reticulum has been penetrated, the symptoms may be confused as sings of indigestion and in a grain feed animal acute carbohydrate overload (Thomas 1998). Any animal that goes through indigestion is unwilling to eat or do much of anything, regardless of the cause.

        A few of the most common signs that you will see are the animal will be in a pain and also the animal will not have an appetite (UA). The animal will also stand with an arched back or be unwilling to walk (WVUE). All in all, the animal will be in discomfort. Also, when the cow may be forced to walk you can often hear it making a grunting sound. This is because the animal is in pain. If the object somehow penetrates around the heart and happens to migrate forward that it will cause an infection that is most often fatal. The infection will occur only if the animal does not die immediately. The University of Missouri explains, the inflammation will irritate the vagus nerve, the vagus nerve controls the rumen contractions and the vagus disturbs this action. When the vagus nerve is irritated the result is bloat, these symptoms may subside and even disappear within one to seven days, but may reoccur shortly afterwards. (UoM 1993). Another sign that may be present in the cow is when you look at the jugular groove you are able to see the vein (WVUE).

        When trying to figure out whether or not it is actually hardware disease, the diagnosis is made on observations of any of the clinical signs above. There is not a 100 percent guaranteed that it is hardware because there are so many other diseases that are present with the same signs. All in all a withers test can be done by squeezing the backbone of the cow just above the withers to see if the animal grunts. This shows that the pain is located in that front half of the cow (WVUE). In cattle, "if peritonitis is severe, the animal may die within a couple of days" (Thomas 1998). If the cow has chronic peritonitis than it you may not see the symptoms for months but the animal will be in constant discomfort (Thomas 1998). Therefore, if hardware disease is occurring the animal in question may just not be doing so well but hardware disease is a an mistake because it is not visible, which should be followed by an examination by an veterinarian (Thomas 1998).

        It is much easier to prevent any sort of disease rather than treating it or trying to cure it. It is also not only easy but cheaper in the long run to prevent the diseases. The easiest way to prevent hardware disease is make sure that you pick up each and every piece of metal that is out in the field, that includes every nail that you drop while nailing up boards, every piece of barb-wire that you cut off, as well as the small nuts and bolts that everybody tends to drop. The number one prevention method revolves around the management of the feeding and grazing areas to avoid the ingestion of foreign objects. If pastures are managed correctly for feeding and grazing, the farmer should never have to worry about their animal getting hardware disease. There is plenty of information available on the internet and in veterinary offices. There is also enough information available from the local extension office as well as several books to prevent almost any curable or treatable disease. Companies are also helping out with the problem of hardware disease by putting magnets in feed mills and forage harvesting equipment, although these are not 100 percent they help. Metal is not the only object that the cattle will ingest, they will occasionally ingest plastic item therefore a magnet will not because it will not be able to keep the item in one place (WVUE). As everybody knows we cannot change the eating habits of cattle, so consequently we have to find other methods of keep the metal fro harming the livestock. One method that works is to insert a magnet in to the cow at an early age, the metal that is eaten will more than likely find its way to the magnet and stop there and move no further. The magnet is only able to do so much so if the cow is showing signs of hardware disease then it would be necessary to insert another magnet. The magnets are fairly cheap and will help out in the long run. They only cost about two to five dollars and if you are able to get them back from the slaughter house they are even cheaper. Magnets are a lot less in expensive than the cost of surgery (WVUE). With any disease, the prevention of the certain disease is a lot cheaper than the cost of surgery or treatment. The easiest thing to do for any farmer is to keep all metal out of the field and out of reach at all times.

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Cattle should also be kept away from any construction site because they are able to pick up any loose material that finds its way into the field and also they might try to get to things that are on the other side of the fence when they are running out of forages in the field that they are in. Any loose material that is in or around a field that can cause problems for livestock should be picked up to prevent any sort of hardware disease problem. There have been several documented cases in the world for cattle that have had problems with hardware disease. In 1999 Rancher Janie Easterbrook claims that the contact that her cattle had with a housing development caused them to get hardware disease. She told the reporter that bits of metal can stay in the stomach for a long time before they do any damage. Hardware disease can strike at any time and all it takes is stress or anything that causes the stomach to contract. In the cattle occurrences such as, pregnancy will move the metal object through the wall, along with stomach contractions and breathing. The cow could be moving the right way at the wrong time to cause the metal in the reticulum to be a problem. The autopsy reports on her last three cows, listed the cause of death to be hardware disease. Easterbrook stated that since she had been raising cattle in 1993 she had never lost a cow to hardware disease (Buckly). Let's take for instance that cow an adult cow cost around 1500 dollars and a calf cost around 600 dollars. In a herd of 100 cows and 50 calves if you lose 6 cows and 3 calves then you are losing over 10 thousand dollars due to a disease that is not really a disease. In any case, even if only one cow in your herd of 100 dies, that is still one cow too many. It is almost laughable at the owner's ignorance if the animal gets hardware disease. There is too much information available online and in any animal related office not to be aware of this disease. Once the owner is aware of the disease, it is incredibly easy to prevent it.

If you are not able to prevent your cattle from getting hardware disease then the next best thing is treatment. The best thing for you to do in preparing you cattle for hardware disease is to think as if your cow has hardware disease. This means placing a magnet in the cattle's fore stomach. (WVUE) Also according to the University of Missouri, another treatment is to place the front feet of the cow on a platform somewhere around 6 to 8 inches off the ground as this may stop the foreign object from moving forward (UoM 1993) This method of treatment takes about 10 to 20 days, also the farmer should administer antibiotics to will keep the spread of infection down (UoM 1993). There is a 20 to 30 percent increase of recovery when you are able to catch hardware disease early; unlike if you let it go untreated there is an 80 - 90 percent chance of death. (MVM 2008) Another treatment is surgery called rumenotomy which means that you have to manually remove to object or objects, also the doctor needs to look for abscess on the reticulum so that they can be opened up and drained back into the reticulum (MVM 2008). If the bovine does have this procedure done, at least some form of antibiotics need to be administered (MVM 2008). The veterinary treatment for hardware disease includes the use of an anti-bacterial to control the inflammation of the peritonitis and also a magnet is given to stop it from happening again (MVM 2008). Like many farmers may know, Penicillin is a very effective antibiotic. It is cheap and easy to administer and can be very effective against hardware disease. Cows that are affected, like any animal that has a disease or debilitating disorder should be placed away from the rest of the herd for at least 1 to 2 weeks (MVM 2008). The cow needs to be kept comfortable as much as possible and by all means, needs to have the risk of deeper penetration cut down. When treating for hardware disease, the use of oral or IV fluids should be administered whenever they are needed to keep the animal healthy during this time (MVM 2008). The IV fluids will keep the cow from getting dehydrated, also if the animal is unable to eat during this time and unable to ruminate, the IV fluids will be of help. With IV fluids, almost anything can be placed in them, like electrolytes and other sources of nutrients to keep the animal alive. In some instances, the cow may benefit from rumen inoculation (MVM 2008). This is beneficial because rumen inoculation can assist with the loss of normal flora and ruminal stasis in the gut (MVM 2008). With cattle that have more of a severe case of hardware disease, cases that will cost you more in the long run if you try to treat them need to be looked at through an economic standpoint, if the cow has no value then they should be sent off to slaughter if they are able to pass the inspection that a lot of slaughter houses have (MVM 2008). The owner must remember if a bovine ever gets into this mess, that it is completely 100% preventable. Picking up wire and other metal pieces will eliminate the risk of the cattle getting this disease in your herd.

If any cow in your herd were to get hardware disease the owner must know the prognosis for the animal if they opt to treat them. Any owner who has an animal that is ill in any way needs to know the risks of the treatment and of the ailment it has. For any disease the definition of prognosis is the thought of what the outcome might be in the end (UoM 1993). Hardware disease, for the animal's prognosis, it differs from each animal as no 2 are every really the same (UoM 1993). The owner and veterinarian, when deciding to treat an animal with hardware disease; needs to determine how long the condition has been present so that they can make a proper treatment plan (UoM 1993). Like any animal, the severity of the disease will vary among the individual. A good, accurate veterinarian will consider everything before making the final decision (UoM 1993). A veterinarian or an owner that just goes in treating the cow without making an accurate diagnosis will more often than not run up a good sized vet bill and could cause the animal more problems. Generally, when treating hardware disease, the prognosis for the animal is pretty decent.

The major point of this disease that keeps being repeated is that hardware disease is completely preventable. More often than not, the owner is completely unaware that the animal could contract hardware disease. A field that looks all nice and green without weeds and is clean will be thought to be less likely to cause such a disease. When owners and other people think of hardware disease and how it is caused, many can envision a field that is cluttered with metal and any type of junk available on the ground to be picked up. Even though a field does not have metal cluttered all over does not mean that there is some there. Fields need to be check thoroughly before putting cattle in the field, or any animal for that matter. If the farmer does check the fields before the livestock are put in there, then more often than not, the livestock will live and produce for many years to come. Another thing any producer needs to be aware of is all the informational benefits they have. A farmer can go online anywhere in the country and find information on hardware disease, as well as other diseases. If the farmer is unable to get online to search these diseases, the local veterinarian and extension agent should have more than enough information on the disease. If all else fails, the producer can find information in books and journals and magazines. With a little cleanliness in the fields and around the feeding areas cattle should have a smaller chance of getting hardware disease. So the next time you are strolling through a field and see a small piece of metal, no matter how small it is, remember, you could save your livestock's life and save you several hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in veterinary bills.

Works Cited

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  • Traumatic Reticulates [Internet]. National Animal disease information service [Updated 2007; Cited 2009 Nov 9]. Available from:
  • Yoshida Yasuyuki. Total and differential leukocyte counts of Traumatic Gastritis Classified under three types in Dairy Cows [Internet]. [Updated 1986 Sep 10; Cited 2009 Nov 7]. Available from: