Case study: Why is this cow biting the metal pipe?

Case study: Why is this cow biting the metal pipe?

Picture was send to us by a farmer. The question was: What can be causing this behaviour?

Our thoughts:
It can be pain or discomfort. It would be good to know how old the cow is. Sometimes they have tooth ache, because of changing molars, typical in third year of life.
Or it can be stereotype behaviour, which can start because of boredom in youngstock. The repetitive behaviour is producing endorfines (feel good hormone) which makes the cow feel better! We sometimes see them pushing there nose against metal: same thing: there is an accupunture point, and pressure there releases endorfine!
Finally, the behaviour can also be caused by acidosis / lack of fiber.

Your thoughts
What do you think? Any other explanations for this behaviour? Please share your thoughts!

Comments (25)

Birte Weseman

I have seen a cow sticking her nose into a metal bar. Was a UNO for me. Good to know it is because of the acupuncture point. She is doing it nealry every day

Pawel Knap

In my veterinary practice i met three or four similarly behaveing cows. Nervous symptoms were caused by severe ketosis. All resolved after appropriate treatment.

Vic Daniel

If the repetitive nature of this becomes aggressive it is nervous acetonemia. I have seen cows chew on steel water bowls until their lower teeth are destroyed.

Dr.Rami Hamad

Could be subclinical Ketsis, also she could be on heat.

Dr.Rami Hamad

I mean Ketosis

Malik Muhammad ali

Hi. Animal sometime crib non food items due to mineral deficiency as well. I had actually excellent example from my experience. A 3500 cow dairy farm with Holstein jersey crossed had this problem with their adult cows and it started suddenly. They were using chealted minerals and we added inorganic zinc, magnesium, copper and vitamin A/E. This resolved in 20 days.

The other factor was water. Ground water had high iron content and it was interfering with absorption of positive minerals special +2 valency.

But as other said it can be due to ketosis or other reasons.



I have seen this phenomenon at intervals in intensively reared cows & bulls.I have traced it back to mineral deficiencies or itchy oral lesions at other instances.Treatment was mostly symptomatic and responses quite rapid.

Tom Whitten DVM

I would think nervous ketosis first. I would also evaluate the ration for salt and mineral content.


salt and mineral deficency seems common causes in China, feed is not enough from the picture, hunger maybe also affect it

Joep Driessen

Thanks for your responses everyone! Very valuable to get various input, together we always know more!

Margherita Bandini

I agree with the stress factor. It might also be pain, but isn´t pain a form of stress? They are one and the same, in this case.
Maybe a good test, apart from getting the animal checked-up by a vet, would be to introduce something interesting and distracting for the cow/s to investigate. If this doesn't change the cow's behaviour, maybe the cause lies elsewhere (although I'd be surprised if there were no change) :)

Thank you for sharing and starting this interesting discussion!


They need soil grazing mainly for zinc and copper
They lick soil mostly whenever get chance
If not they get gi pipes to lick

Dušan Kořínek

I agree with symptoms of ketosis - subacute ketosis leads to the following expressions. At the same time, I also saw similar symptoms deficiency micronutrients with which also appears licking and eating plaster walls.

john knowles

Highly likely that it is Ketosis. Have seen them eating metal pipes and also trying to eat the concrete. Relatively easy to fix these acute cases, but need to look for the underlying cause

The picture shows a cow in a feed lot, no possibilities for grazing. This could lead to depreviation of oral behaviour, depending on the roughage content of the ration. We see lot's of these abnormalities in calves, raised for veal production. Perhaps the ketosis hypothesis could be connected through the inadequate ration too.


I suggest to explore the nasal cavity ,because may be some vegetal particles , or minerals , accidentally inspired or expired,or possible be produced by the presence of moulds or their mycotoxins, which can generating iritations and iching. Is just a oppinion ,starting from the fact that normal farms offer a balanced and optimum rations.


Assess to straw can alleviate this

Carsten Houmann

What you see here is "Mycosis"
Mycosis is a fungal infection of the animal.
This fungal infection starts often in the lungs and after a long latent periode it goes to the blood and the central nervesystem.
Caused the fungal infection the cows get an inflamation in the meninges(the membrane around the brain)
Mycosis comes very often from Aspergillus.
I have seen the symptoms in my own herd years ago.
The symptoms comes up after milking caused drops in bloodcalcium.
Threatment: Give calcium and magnesium in the blod to improve muscle function. This threatment also takes away the nervous symptoms.
The fungal inflamation must be threated by antibiotics.

Anouk Brinkhoff

Thanks again for all your reactions! Great to get so much input!

Muhammad saif

nervous signs like this pic also come in grass tetany/lactation tetany due to magnesium deficiency so it should also be ruled out

Sanjay patil

Pawel Knap wrote:
In my veterinary practice i met three or four similarly behaveing cows. Nervous symptoms were caused by severe ketosis. All resolved after appropriate treatment.


Great post!! thanks for sharing!!
Steel supplier in Bangalore


On the field experience tells me, phosphorus deficiency associated with post parturition calcium deficiency, typical of cows wintered on fodder beet and straw. This would not happen if fodder beet was fed with silage.


Some dairy cows been down pre parturition with these same symptoms

Dr Allan

Mineral deficiency, if licking steel/paint/rubber/rust etc. Give a good lick for each different season.

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