Hardware Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

used Cow Magnet

Hardware disease, also known as traumatic reticuloperitonitis, is a common condition that affects cattle. It is caused by the ingestion of sharp, hard objects such as nails, staples, and pieces of wire. These objects can settle in the reticulum, which is the first chamber of the cow’s stomach, and cause irritation or perforation of the lining. Hardware disease is most commonly seen in dairy cattle, but it can also affect beef cattle.

Diagnosing hardware disease can be challenging, as the symptoms can be similar to other conditions. Cattle with hardware disease may show signs of depression, a poor appetite, and a reluctance to move. In severe cases, they may develop a fever, and their heart and respiratory rates may increase. If left untreated, hardware disease can lead to serious complications, including peritonitis, abscesses, and even death.

Preventing hardware disease is essential for maintaining the health and well-being of cattle. This can be achieved by taking steps to reduce the risk of ingestion of sharp objects, such as keeping the feeding area clean and free of debris, using feeders that are designed to prevent the ingestion of foreign objects, and regularly inspecting cattle for signs of hardware disease. If you suspect that your cattle may have hardware disease, it is important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible to prevent complications and improve the chances of a successful outcome.

What is Hardware Disease?

Hardware disease, also known as traumatic reticuloperitonitis, is a common condition that affects cattle and other ruminants. It occurs when a sharp, hard object, such as a nail, wire, or piece of metal, is ingested by the animal and then penetrates the reticulum, one of the four compartments of the stomach.

The reticulum is responsible for filtering out foreign objects that the animal may ingest while grazing, but sometimes these objects can pass through and get lodged in the walls of the reticulum. Over time, the object can cause irritation, inflammation, and infection, which can lead to a range of symptoms and complications.

The severity of hardware disease can vary depending on the size and location of the object, as well as the animal’s overall health and immune system. Mild cases may go unnoticed, while severe cases can be life-threatening if left untreated.

Some common signs and symptoms of hardware disease include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased milk production
  • Lethargy or depression
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Fever

If you suspect that your animal may have hardware disease, it is important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Diagnosis typically involves a physical exam, bloodwork, and imaging tests such as X-rays or ultrasound. Treatment may include antibiotics, pain management, and surgery to remove the object if necessary.

Causes of Hardware Disease

Hardware disease, also known as traumatic reticuloperitonitis, is a common condition in cattle that can cause serious health problems. The primary cause of hardware disease is the ingestion of foreign objects, such as nails, wire, or other metal objects, which can puncture the stomach wall and cause infections.

Ingestion of Foreign Objects

Cattle are naturally curious animals and will often eat or chew on anything they come across, including pieces of metal or other foreign objects. When these objects are swallowed, they can become lodged in the reticulum, the first chamber of the cow’s stomach, and cause irritation or puncture the stomach wall.

The ingestion of foreign objects is more common in cattle that are fed using metal feeders or that graze in areas where there is a lot of debris, such as near construction sites or in areas with discarded metal objects.

Cow Magnet

One way to prevent hardware disease is to use a cow magnet. A cow magnet is a small, cylindrical magnet that is inserted into the cow’s stomach. The magnet attracts any metal objects that the cow may ingest, preventing them from puncturing the stomach wall and causing infections.

Cow magnets are a safe and effective way to prevent hardware disease in cattle, and they are commonly used in feedlots and other areas where cattle are at a higher risk of ingesting foreign objects.

However, it is important to note that cow magnets are not a substitute for proper management practices, such as keeping feeding areas clean and free of debris, to prevent the ingestion of foreign objects in the first place.

Symptoms of Hardware Disease

Hardware disease in cattle can have various symptoms depending on where the object has penetrated. The most common symptoms of hardware disease include:

  • Depression
  • Poor appetite
  • Reluctance to move
  • Indigestion
  • Pain when defecating
  • Standing with an arched back
  • Grunt when forced to walk

According to MU Extension, if perforation of the heart has occurred, fluid due to infection may accumulate around the heart and produce abnormal heart sounds. The cow may also exhibit an elevated heart rate and shallow, rapid respiration.

Hardware disease can also cause pain at the junction of the thorax and abdomen. Symptoms that very strongly suggest a diagnosis of Hardware Disease include an animal standing with its head and neck extended, grunting, with the elbows pointed out. All of these point to pain at the junction of the thorax and abdomen, according to Oklahoma State University.

If you suspect that your cattle may have hardware disease, it is essential to contact a veterinarian immediately. They can perform diagnostic tests and provide appropriate treatment to prevent further complications.

Diagnosing Hardware Disease

Diagnosing Hardware Disease can be challenging, as the symptoms can be vague and non-specific. However, when a cow is losing weight and the cause is not readily apparent, Hardware Disease is often suspected. Several tests can help confirm a diagnosis of Hardware Disease, including X-rays, ultrasound, and analysis of certain blood proteins.

X-rays are useful in identifying the presence of metallic foreign bodies in the reticulum, as well as any damage or perforations that may have occurred. Ultrasound can also be used to visualize the reticulum and identify any abnormalities or foreign bodies present.

Blood analysis can provide valuable information about the cow’s overall health and the presence of inflammation or infection. Certain blood proteins, such as haptoglobin and serum amyloid A, can be elevated in cows with Hardware Disease.

It is important to note that not all cases of Hardware Disease will show up on diagnostic tests. In some cases, the foreign body may have already passed through the cow’s digestive system or may be located in a position that is difficult to visualize. Therefore, a diagnosis of Hardware Disease may be based on a combination of clinical signs, history, and diagnostic test results.

Treatment for Hardware Disease

If Hardware Disease is diagnosed by a veterinarian, the treatment options will depend on the severity of the condition and the value of the animal. If the animal has little or no value other than for market prices, slaughter may be recommended. However, if the animal is for breeding purposes or is a dairy cow, several treatments may be beneficial.

Surgical Removal

In some cases, surgical removal of the foreign object may be necessary. This is typically done under general anesthesia and involves making an incision in the animal’s side to access the reticulum. The foreign object is then removed, and the incision is closed. This procedure carries some risks, including infection and damage to surrounding organs, and should only be performed by a qualified veterinarian.

After the surgery, the animal will need to be monitored closely for any signs of infection or other complications. Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent infection, and pain medication may be given to manage any discomfort.

It is important to note that surgical removal is not always necessary or recommended. In some cases, the foreign object may pass through the animal’s digestive system on its own or become encapsulated in scar tissue without causing any further harm.

If surgical removal is not an option, alternative treatments may include the use of magnets or other devices to help prevent future cases of Hardware Disease. These treatments should only be used under the guidance of a qualified veterinarian.

Preventing Hardware Disease

Preventing hardware disease is crucial in maintaining the health and productivity of our cattle. Here are some effective preventive measures:

Using Cow Magnets

One popular preventive routine for hardware disease is using cow magnets. These magnets are placed in the reticulum of the cow’s stomach, where they attract and hold onto any metal objects that the cow may ingest. This prevents the metal objects from moving further into the digestive tract and causing damage.

Cow magnets are most commonly used in dairy breeds, where cows are more likely to accidentally ingest metal objects such as baling wire or staples. They are also useful in beef cattle, especially those that are on pasture and may come into contact with metal debris.

When using cow magnets, it is important to ensure that they are properly placed in the reticulum and that they are replaced regularly to ensure maximum effectiveness.

Other preventive measures include:

  • Keeping the feeding area clean and free of metal debris
  • Feeding cattle from troughs or feeders instead of the ground
  • Using hay nets or feeders to prevent cattle from ingesting wire or other metal objects
  • Regularly inspecting cattle for signs of hardware disease and treating any cases promptly

By taking these preventive measures, we can help ensure the health and well-being of our cattle and prevent the costly and potentially deadly effects of hardware disease.

cow magnets

using cow magnets


After researching and reviewing the information available, we have learned that hardware disease is a serious condition that can affect cattle and other animals. It occurs when a sharp object, such as a nail or piece of wire, pierces the stomach wall and gains access to the heart. This can cause an infection that can be mild or severe.

Prevention is key when it comes to hardware disease. We can take steps to prevent our animals from ingesting foreign objects by keeping our pastures, barns, and fields free of debris. We should also take care when repairing fences and other equipment to ensure that no small metal objects are left behind.

If you suspect that one of your animals may have hardware disease, it is important to seek prompt medical treatment. Your veterinarian can perform a physical exam, take x-rays or ultrasound images, and determine the best course of treatment.

Overall, we must be vigilant when it comes to the health and well-being of our livestock. By taking preventative measures and seeking prompt treatment when necessary, we can help to minimize the risk of hardware disease and other health conditions.

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As the founder of MagnetMfg, I have over 15 years in magnet industry. I am an expert in magnet design, magnet manufacturing, and magnet application. Let my knowledge and expertise answer your doubts.Contact me at info@magnetmfg.com


Hi, I'm David, the founder of MagnetMfg. You can find out more about me by exploring the about page.

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