Abdominal exploration in cattle


Andrew JT Muir, DVM, MS, gave a lecture on standing flank laparotomies in cattle, including alternative surgical options at the 2024 AVMA Convention

Photo: Jonatan Rundblad/Adobe Stock

Photo: Jonatan Rundblad/Adobe Stock

Abdominal exploration in cattle may be necessary for various reasons. It is primarily needed to diagnose and treat conditions that cause colic, anorexia, or other symptoms of abdominal pain. In order to treat abdominal conditions in cattle effectively, it is important for veterinary professionals to possess proficiency in abdominal exploration surgery. At the 2024 American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Convention in Austin, Texas, Andrew JT Muir, DVM, MS, veterinary associate at Nenn Equine Veterinary Services in Santa Rosa Valley, California, gave a comprehensive lecture on conducting flank laparotomies in cattle, as well as different surgical options.1

Surgical options for abdominal exploration

During his lecture, Muir discussed the pros and cons of standing versus recumbent laparotomy surgery. According to Muir, abdominal surgery in cattle is generally performed standing, primarily to avoid the challenges and risks associated with general anesthesia and lateral recumbency for prolonged periods of time. “Standing for surgeries carry minimal complications,” Muir said. However, standing surgeries can also be more difficult to perform, given the movement of the animal, according to Muir. “If you're working on Brahman cattle…they have a tendency to lay down, which can be catastrophic if you have intestines exteriorized through the incision, and then she decides to lay down on you and… then decides to stand up again and steps on her intestines. That can be pretty problematic,” said Muir. Moreover, standing laparotomies have reduced uterine exteriorization compared to doing paramedian or ventral midline incisions.1

Recumbent laparotomies have improved uterine exteriorization, with removed risks associated with standing surgery. This type of surgery, however, carries risks of general anesthesia. “Cattle under general anesthesia are predisposed to hypoventilation and ruminal bloat,” said Muir. Another concern with prolonged lateral recumbency is the possibility of neuropathies and myopathies. Additionally, the procedure more expensive than standing surgeries due to increased surgery time.

Standing laparotomy

During his lecture, Muir taught attendees the surgical approach to a standing laparotomy, which involves sequential layers from the skin down to the peritoneal lining. Initially, the external abdominal oblique muscle is encountered first, followed by the internal abdominal oblique and the transverse abdominis muscles and finally, the peritoneal lining.1

He also touched on laparotomy closure. “It's important to know what muscle bellies we go through when we get towards the abdominal cavity, because we want to close these muscle bellies in certain layers,” Muir explained. “When we do abdominal closure, I prefer to do the transverse abdominis with the peritoneum, do a second layer with the internal and external abdominal obliques together, and then ultimately the skin,” he continued.

In his session, Muir lectured on how to distinguish between the different layers. He explained that external abdominal obliques run in a cranial to caudal direction, whereas the internal abdominal obliques “run from a caudal to cranial direction, and the transverse abdominis runs from a dorsal to ventral direction.”


Standing flank laparotomy provides access to the abdominal cavity for diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. Cattle tolerate standing abdominal procedures well, requiring minimal intense preoperative, intraoperative, or post-operative care. As such, these animals are good candidates for these types of flank laparotomies. Conditions like intussusception, cecal dilation and dislocation, abomasal displacement, and traumatic reticuloperitonitis frequently require exploratory laparotomy.1 Moreover, timely intervention is critical, as delays can exacerbate complications or result in fatalities.


Muir A. Standing flank laparotomy in cattle: Techniques and applications. Presented at: American Veterinary Medical Association Convention; Austin, TX; June 21-25, 2024.

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