Phytobezoars (Phyto-bez-wa)

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 What is a phytobezoar?

 A phytobezoar is also known as a fibre ball. They are accumulations of indigestible plant material in the digestive system of cattle. These occur in areas where fibrous feeds make up a substantial part of the cows diet.

Initially these fibrous materials accumulate in the rumen, contractions of the rumen then cause these fibres to roll around and form a ball. The balls can be variable in size, from marble size to grapefruit even football size

Phytobezoars are commonly seen in cattle grazing large amounts of fibrous weeds such as onion weed or nut grass. Onion weed mostly dominates pastures in the autumn following a dry summer, but obstruction due to phytobezoars occur most commonly in the following spring or summer. This is thought to be associated with lush feed and increased gut activity.

 

What do they do?

Once formed these balls can move from the rumen through to the abomasum, where larger ones often become lodged. Smaller ones can move out from the stomach and become lodged in the intestines. Very small ones often get passed. Once lodged these balls can cause obstructions.

 

What signs do you see?

The most common presenting sign is a sudden and severe decrease in milk production. Occasionally there may be an initial attack of abdominal pain, but this stage usually only lasts for a few hours and may not be seen. In the early stages the amount of faeces is reduced and appears pasty. As the obstruction advances faeces become more grey-yellow and foul smelling, the cow becomes more lethargic as dehydration progresses and occasionally we see a green discharge from the nose.

 

How do you treat it?

Surgery is the only way to treat a phytobezoar obstruction. Most animals that are still on their feet at the time of surgery will recover and many are back on their milk within 48 hours. The outlook is very poor for animals that are down and unable to rise. Early treatment has the best outcome.

The signs that indicate a phytobezoar obstruction can also be similar for other gut problems such as LDA, RDA, intestinal torsion, ketosis etc so if you are concerned about an animal showing signs of gut pain, lowered milk production, off food etc, a vet visit is strongly recommended.