Veterinary Handbook Disease Finder

Retained Foetal Membranes


Cattle are the main species of interest.

Other Names

  • Retained Placenta



If foetal membranes are not expelled within 24 hours after giving birth they are classed as retained. They are normally expelled within 3 to 8 hrs after birth, but may be retained for up to two weeks. Retained placenta is uncommon in beef cattle, may affect 5-15% of dairy cows, and is more common following early or abnormal parturition or abortion. Most cases require no treatment, but complications such as metritis and toxaemia may become life-threatening.

Clinical Signs and Diagnosis

Presence of visible membranes at the vulva are an obvious sign, but cows may have a retained placenta without any external signs. Diagnosis generally depends on physical examination, including rectal and vaginal examination.


Manual removal is best avoided where possible because of the risk of trauma, haemorrhage, and subsequent infection of the uterus. Removing the exteriorised membranes by trimming under slight tension may be required. 

Antibiotic pessaries inserted into the uterus are ineffective at reducing infection or preventing metritis and may also delay separation, which relies on bacterial action.

Animals with retained membranes that show systemic signs of illness associated with metritis should be treated with systemic antibiotics (procaine penicillin, oxytetracycline or trimethoprim sulpha).


Specific preventative measures are not warranted because retained placenta is likely to be uncommon in the export process.