Bob Judd, DVM, DABVP (Equine Medicine), DABVP (Canine and Feline Practice)
If you have beef cattle, you may have heard the term hardware disease.
Hardware disease is a common term for bovine traumatic reticuloperitonitis. Mark Johnson states in Drovers Magazine that this disease is usually caused when a cow ingests a metallic object like a screw, nail, or wire.
Because of their weight, these objects settle in the bottom of a part of the stomach called the reticulum. The reticulum lies just across the diaphragm from the heart. As the reticulum contracts to move food, it pushes the metal object through the stomach wall, allowing an infection to develop called peritonitis.
The contraction can then push the metal object into the sac surrounding the heart and cause severe inflammation and pain. Hardware disease can be mild or deadly depending on the degree of damage.
Cows with hardware disease are usually acting painful and walk with a humped back. Standing in a chute can increase pain if a metal bar or pipe is used, placing upward pressure on the sternum behind the elbow. These cows will be reluctant to walk, have weight loss, decreased appetite, and will grunt when forced to move.
The disease can be difficult to diagnose. Large teaching hospitals have radiology equipment powerful enough to see metal objects. It is possible with surgery to reach into the stomach and remove the object, but this is difficult, and the infection still persists, so many of these cows do not do well.
Obviously, this would only be for very valuable cattle. Sometimes you can place a magnet in the reticulum by using a balling gun, and the magnet may pull the metal object back into the stomach. Antibiotics can be used for the infection.