TCVM to Treat Complications of an Epidural in a Dairy Cow

TCVM to Treat Complications of an Epidural in a Dairy Cow

by Steph Rhebergen, DVM, Abbotsford BC, Canada

Author: Chi Institute/Wednesday, January 14, 2015/Categories: TCVM Newsletter, 2014 Winter Issue

A two-year old purebred red-and-white Holstein cow was referred for acupuncture a day after complications from an epidural during an embryo transfer procedure. The cow had collapsed after the administration of the epidural and was unable to rise for about two hours. When she was finally able to get up, she exhibited mild ataxia, decreased perineal tone, abdominal pressing to defecate and abnormal tail carriage. The owner said her appetite had decreased and she appeared to be uncomfortable.

Physical Exam

The findings of the physical exam were unremarkable. She was hard to examine as she did not like to be touched and had a very swift kick. Abnormalities included mild ataxia when walking, abdominal straining to defecate, decreased anal tone and tail carriage off to the right side.

The owner was very concerned about the abdominal straining and discomfort exhibited by this valuable two-year-old cow.  He hoped that she could fully recover before the start of the next embryo transfer program, and decided to try acupuncture to decrease her discomfort and healing time. 


The red-and-white cow displayed Wood characteristics. She was the dominant cow in her group.  She was very quick, did not like to be touched and did not like anything outside of her daily routine. A coccygeal pulse was attempted but met with resistance (kicking and lots of movement).  Her tail was cooler than normal. It was determined that there was local Qi Stagnation at the site of the epidural (first intercoccygeal space).

TCVM Treatment

The goal of treatment was to move Qi and resolve Stagnation in the spine to facilitate healing.  Placing needles proved to be difficult in this case, so the flying needle technique was used and a limited number of needles were placed. 

The 1st Acupuncture Treatment

Electro-acupuncture: GV-1 to GV-14, 20 Hz for 15 min.

Dry Needles: Bai-hui, GV-3 and Shen-shu with 1 in. 28g needles.

GV-1 to GV-14 were electro-acupunctured to promote the flow of Qi through the spine. Bai-hui was dry-needled as a permission point and also as a local point. GV-3 is used as a local point and for paralysis in the hind limbs. Shen-shu is a local point and used for hind limb paralysis and back issues as well.

Herbal treatment: A mix of Ju Pi San (30g), ginger (30g), cayenne pepper (5g), probiotics and 5 gallons of warm water was administered via stomach pump to increase appetite and warm the body.  The herbal mixture was given once a day for three days. 

Ju Pi San (Jing Tang brand) can promote the movement of Qi and resolve pain.  Ginger and cayenne pepper were added to the mix for their warming properties. Also, Ginger is well-known for its use in digestive disturbances. 

After the first acupuncture session, the cow’s appetite had increased and there was a 75% improvement in the abdominal pressing to defecate.  The tail was no longer cold and the cow was no longer ataxic, although her tail carriage was still off to the right side.

The 2nd and 3rd Acupuncture Treatment

The second and third treatments were each performed two days following the previous treatment.

Electro-acupuncture: Bai-hui to GV-14, 20 Hz for 15 min. The cow did not allow GV-1 to be needled.

Dry Needle: Shen-shu and Wei-jian.

Wei-jian was added to the second and third treatment to resolve spine pain, and as an alternative to GV-1. Wei-jian is safer to needling as the tail can be moved further away from the striking hooves.

During each acupuncture session, when the electro-acupuncture unit had been on for about 10 minutes, the hair on the cow’s back would stand straight up, at which point the intensity of the electrical stimulation had to be reduced, otherwise the cow would get very agitated and start kicking. 

Case Summary

After three acupuncture treatments, the cow was almost completely back to normal. Her appetite was normal and she was no longer abdominal pressing to defecate. Her perineal tone and sensation were normal, though she still had a very slight deviation of the tail off to the right side.

The young cow was put on an embryo flush program again after one month off and was able to produce many good quality embryos for her owner. As the latest update from the owner, she was 4 months pregnant with her second calf.   

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