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Umbilical swellings in calves: a continuing challenge
  1. Andy Hopker, BVM&S, MRCVS
  1. The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Easter Bush Campus, Midlothian EH25 9RG, UK
  1. e-mail: ahopker{at}

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MOST farm animal vets will be familiar with the line ‘while you're here, could you just take a quick look at this calf with a swelling?’, often uttered when they are preparing to depart. Differentiation between life-threatening and inconsequential swellings is a mainstay of cattle practice and the ability to form a treatment plan which is both effective and realistic is vital to both clinical outcome and client satisfaction.

Three different words are used interchangeably to denote the umbilical region: omphalos, which was the name of the centre stone in the temple of Apollo at Delphi; umbo, a Latin word meaning a shield boss (the central stud); and navel, which is derived from nafe, the Anglo- Saxon word for the hub of a wheel. Hippocrates (460- 375 BC) used the word hernios meaning a bud or bulge to describe the abdominal hernia.

Swellings in the umbilical region of calves may be due to: infection of the umbilical vessels or urachus, which may progress to abscessation; hernia; or the combination of both processes (Baird 2008). Patent urachus may also occur, which should be obvious from the dripping of urine. Ventral oedema due to other causes, such as cardiac or hepatic dysfunction, must also be considered. It is …

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