Urea is a source of non-protein nitrogen. Non-protein nitrogen is nitrogen not derived from protein, hence they are nitrogen sources. Urea is broken down to ammonia and carbon dioxide in the rumen. The ammonia is used by the rumen microorganisms to build their own bodies producing microbial crude protein. The microbes are washed from the rumen and the microbial crude protein is digested in the abomasums (true stomach) with the resultant amino acids being absorbed in the small intestine.

Excess ammonia from the rumen is absorbed into the blood stream and converted back to urea in the liver. Some of this urea is recycled into the digestive system via salvia and the excess is excreted in the urine. Urea poisoning occurs when the level of ammonia in the blood is above that which can be converted back to urea in the liver. This often occurs when urea intake is faster or at higher levels than the animal and the microorganisms are accustomed to.

Symptoms of Urea Poisoning:

  • Severe stomach pain
  • Proppy gait
  • Muscular tremor
  • Slow, deep and laboured breathing
  • Weakness and collapse
  • Bloating
  • Frothing at the mouth
  • Regurgitation of rumen contents
  • Violent struggling just before death

Urea poisoning affects the animals very quickly and animals usually die very close to the source of urea.

As poisoning occurs very quickly, treatment is often too late and therefore ineffective. However, if you come across an animal in the early stages of urea poisoning it is recommended to:

  • Drench immediately with 4 to 8 litres of a mixture of equal parts of water and vinegar.

Treated animals should be kept under observation as a relapse can occur several hours after the initial symptoms and therefore you should give a repeat dose after one hour.