The industry’s current understanding of dairy cow mortality is reliant upon descriptions largely based on producer or veterinary assumptions regarding cause of death without the benefit of detailed postmortem evaluations, said Craig McConnel, DVM, MVCS, Colorado State University, in a paper published May 2009 in the Journal of Dairy Science.

The paper, “A Necropsy-based Descriptive Study of Dairy Cow Deaths on a Colorado Dairy,” detailed a study that sought to describe dairy cow deaths on a Colorado dairy over a one-year period and explore classification systems for necropsy findings that might influence management changes to reduce mortality.

McConnel says a producer’s perception of cause of death can be seriously flawed (45% incorrect overall), particularly when dealing with animals dying an unassisted death (63% incorrect). This study was founded on the premise that a detailed necropsy examination would provide the best information for establishing causes of death.

The DAMN-IT scheme
What might be useful for veterinarians and their clients is the DAMN-IT scheme to help classify deaths.

DAMN-IT (or DAMN-IT V) is a mnemonic acronym to help veterinarians develop a list of differentials. It has the following categories: Degenerative; Anomalous, autoimmune; Metabolic; Neoplastic, nutritional; Inflammatory (infectious or noninfectious), immune mediated, iatrogenic, idiopathic; Traumatic and toxic, and is often also followed with “V” for vascular.

Diagnostic acronym: the DAMN-IT V scheme
D = Degenerative
A = Anomaly
M = Metabolic
N = Neoplastic, nutritional
I = Inflammatory, infectious, immune mediated
T = Trauma, toxicity
V = Vascular

Read the article “Categorizing deaths on dairies” in Bovine Veterinarian here.