The navel is an interestingly functional prenatal and postnatal entity. The unborn fetus of mammals is nourished, oxygenated and cleaned through the navel cord. Special shunts at the heart and bladder have pre-birth functions that are terminated at birth. The newborn’s lungs take over and the heart reroutes the blood. The nourished blood entering through the navel cord is terminated when the cord is broken and the bladder reroutes the waste from the urachus (prenatal bladder drain of the navel cord) to the urethra. Life is new and different now.
As these marvelous changes are happening there are inherent hazards. The term navel ill is an apt term to encompass this group of hazards. The obvious is umbilical hernias, navel infections, navel abscesses, and post partum bleeding novels. The less obvious is internal vessel infections (omphlebitis, urachitis) bladder infections, septicemia, vessel abscesses, liver abscesses, heart valve infections, eye problems and joint infections, both with pus and without pus. Occasionally a patent urachus will continue to drip urine out the navel.
Umbilical hernias may be due to trauma or an inherited tendency due to weak muscles and tissue around the navel. Selection against hernias is highly advisable. Surgical repair is possible but prevention by genetic selection is best.
Umbilical infections are difficult to prevent in unattended births. Human babies are carefully treated with these complications in mind. Cattle and other livestock in the field follow a natural course. A good mother, with opportunity, will find a clean (sanitary?) place to have her young and clean it up after delivery. Bad weather and/or crowded conditions complicate this process. The first week or until the cord dries up and drops off is also an opportune time for bacteria to invade this healing area. Good immunity is also important. An early dose of ample volume good quality colostrum is very important.
The more serious complicated navel ills come from invasions of virulent germs either by invasion in the first 2-3 days or actual aspiration of the organism, up the cord, as it is broken. This is like an intravenous injection of bacteria. These organisms have opportunity to settle in the liver, the heart and seem to have a predilection to the joints.
A general septicemia is also possible early. The liver abscesses, heart complications and joint problems may show up weeks or months later.
Often the newborn or young animal is not as active or growing as well as expected before the tell tale stiffness or swelled joints appear. Lack of thriftiness and stamina will escalate with the heart and liver complications.
Antibiotics in generous doses for 4-5 days up to 10-30 days can eliminate the infection from the body if caught early enough. Deep set infections tend to be recurring and nearly impossible to totally cure.
A clean delivery environment and navel treatment with iodine help. Clamping and treating the navel cord before it is broken is best. In the livestock world it is generally up to the mother. Things work out well with only occasional problems.