As part of our Theriogenology class this semester, the instructor has organized several palpation labs for us to gain some experience, particularly when it comes to pregnancy checks in cows and mares. I did the lab for the cow last week and I can definitely say from personal experience…. that rectal palpation is truly an art form.
Of course, the professor made it look easy. He estimated the stage of pregnancy in four cows in about 2-3 minutes, and then it was our turn. He told us what to look for (fetal membrane slip, cotyledons, the actual fetus, etc) and then let us have at it. I’d say the most difficult part about having to use your hand as your eyes is that most things you feel are about the same texture. This was only my second or third time palpating, so all I could describe is that I felt a lot of squishy things. After having a while to adjust, I started to feel some of the structures I was told to look for, which was exciting!
For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of doing a rectal palpation, let me offer you this tip. Don’t be afraid to dive right in. Sometimes you’ll have to seriously reach, so don’t be afraid to do so. It’s very messy, so don’t be surprised if you end up covered in materials you don’t want to be covered in. I’m a slight germaphobe, so this part took me some getting used to. Ask questions if you have them. I seriously don’t believe there’s such a thing as a stupid question; if we had all the answers, would we need to pay for vet school? Lastly, for those who are a little fidgety around large animals, the likelihood of injury when they’re properly restrained in the stocks is pretty low, so try not to panic if they move around in defiance (but honestly, can you blame them?).