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Sheep & Goat Health. SUSAN SCHOENIAN Goat and Sheep Specialist Maryland Cooperative Extension Common Problems and Solutions. Starts with Prevention Biosecurity Vaccination program Parasite control Good nutrition

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Sheep & Goat Health

SUSAN SCHOENIANGoat and Sheep SpecialistMaryland Cooperative

Common Problemsand Solutions

Starts with Prevention


Vaccination program

Parasite control

Good nutrition

Early detection and treatment


Predator control

Health care in sheep and goats

Boer x Kiko

Buy from reputable breeders.

Know the health status of the animals you are purchasing.

Maintain a closed flock/herd.

Limit showing/ exhibiting.

Isolate new animals for at least 30 days.

BiosecuritySecurity from transmission of infectious diseases, parasites, and pests

Don’t loan or share rams or bucks.*

Don’t breed ewes or does for other producers.*

Do not mix your animals with other people’s animals.*

Don’t share equipment unless it is disinfected after each use.

Don’t let your shearer spread disease.

Limit access to your farm/animals.

Control cat, dog, bird, and rodent populations.

BiosecuritySecurity from transmission of infectious diseases, parasites, and pests

*Unless other farm/animals have equal health status.

Clostridial diseasesClostridium perfringins type C & D (overeating disease/enterotoxemia)Clostridium tetani (tetanus)

Vaccinate ewes/does 2-6 weeks before parturition

Vaccine lambs/kids at ~6 and ~10 weeks of age

Vaccine rams, bucks, and wethers annually

Other diseases you could vaccinate for*

Some types of abortion


Caseous lymphadenitis (CL)

Foot rot


E. coli scours

Other clostridial diseases


Sound Vaccination Program

*Depends on disease prevalence and risk.

Good management

Pasture rest/rotation

Alternative forages

Zero grazing

Mixed species grazing

Genetic selection

between and within breeds

Fecal egg counts

Monitor pasture contamination

Test for drug resistance

Selective deworming

Deworming Parasite Control Program

Feed balanced rations.

Feed according to production cycle and growth stage.

Supplement pasture and forage, when necessary and economical.

Provide free choice minerals.

Choose proper feeds for sheep and goats.

Good nutritionBetter nutrition means stronger immune systems and disease resistance.

Know common signs of illness

Loss of body condition

Poor appetite

Lag behind flock/herd


Ears or head down (tail down)

Poor hair/wool coat

Teeth grinding (pain)

Dirty hocks, tail, britch (scours)

Anemia (barber pole worm)

Fever (infection)normal body temp is 102-103°F

Breathing (respiratory)

Gait (neurological)

Early detection and treatmentEarly diagnosis is key to the control of health problems.

Most problems have a genetic component

Foot rot


Vaginal, rectal prolapses

Inverted eye lids

Most disease conditions will repeat or get worse

Hoof problems


Vaginal prolapses

CullingCulling is one of the most powerful tools in managing animal health.

Vaginal prolapse

Control predationPredation accounted for 37.3% of sheep and goat losses in 2005.

  • Predator control options

    • Fencing

    • Management

    • Livestock guardians

    • Lethal control

coyotes, dogs, bears, mountain lions, cougars, foxes, eagles, bobcats, wolves, vultures

High-tensile, electric

Woven or net wire

Electric netting

Modify existing fences

Predator-proof gates

FencingPredator control starts with a good fence.

Remove dead carcasses and anything else that attracts predators.

Complete confinement.

Lamb/kid in confinement.

Night penning.

Minimize use of high risk pastures.

Don’t lamb or kid in remote areas or large pastures.

Change lambing/kidding season.

Fall lambing/kidding tends to reduce predator losses.

Repellents, frightening devices.

Aversive conditioning.

Management Options

Guardian dogs (29.6%)Great Pyrenees, Komondor, Akbash, Anatolian Shepherd, Maremma, Mastiff

Llamas (14.2%)(female or gelding, not alpacas)

Donkeys (11.4%)(standard sized, gelding or jenny)

Cattle – “flerd”need to be bonded

Livestock Guardians45% of sheep farms employ livestock guardians.


Trapping (foot hold, snare)


Livestock protection collar*

M-44 cyanide injector*

Make sure you know the laws in your state/county.

*Requires assistance of USDA APHIS Wildlife Services

Lethal Predator ControlLast resort, but sometimes necessary.

Major health issues

Other common problems

A few other diseases

Wasting diseases

Health problems of sheep and goats

The major health issues

  • Internal Parasites

  • Foot rot

  • Diarrhea

  • Respiratory

  • Predation

Goats eating chicory

Internal Parasites # 1 health problem affecting sheep and goats in warm, moist climates.

  • Stomach/round worms barber pole worm

  • Tapeworms

  • Lungworms

  • Liver Flukes

  • Meningeal worm

  • Coccidiosis

Single-cell protozoa that damages the lining of the small intestines, where nutrient absorption occurs.

Can permanently stunt animals.


Causes scouring, weight loss, and death in lambs/kids.


Coccidiosis eimerasp.



Fecal oocyte counts are of limited diagnostic value.

Treatment(requires extra label drug use)

Corid (Amprolium)

Sulfa drugs


Good sanitation

Avoid overcrowding

Use of coccidiostats in feed, mineral, or water (before hand)

Bovatec® (lasalocid) **

Rumensin® (monensin)*

Deccox® (Decoquinate) **

Corid (lower dose than treatment)

Coccidiosis eimera sp.

* Toxic to equines. ** Do not feed to equines.

Highly contagious.

Caused by the interaction of two anaerobic bacteria:

Bacteroides nodosusin sheep/goat’s hoof (can only survive 10-14 days)

Fusobacterium necrophorumin soil and manure (always)

Lameness is symptom.

Gets in hoof.

Has characteristic foul odor.

Treat with aggressive hoof trimming, foot baths/soaks, antibiotics, moving to dry area, vaccination, and culling.

Foot rotOne of the most economically devastating diseases in the sheep/goat industry.

Most people BUY foot rot!

Not contagious.

An infection between the toes. No involvement of the hoof.

Caused by Fusobacterium necrophorum, the bacteria that is always present on sheep and goat farms.

Activated by damp, muddy conditions; goes away when it’s dry.

Can treat/control with foot baths/soaks, moving to a dry area.

Foot Scald (is not foot rot)interdigital dermatitis, benign foot rot, non-virulent foot rot


Diarrhea (scours)An increased frequency, fluidity, or volume of fecal excretion.

  • Infectious

    • Viral

    • BacterialE.coli, salmonella

    • Protozoa coccidia, cryptosporidia

  • Non-infectious

    • Parasites

    • Nutrition

    • Management

    • Stress

  • Often a symptom of other problems. Often self-limiting. Determine cause!

  • Treatment: rehydration, antibiotics (if fever), antidiarrheal drugs (pepto-bismal, kaopectate, immodium), probiotics (yogurt).

-- many causes --

Respiratory complex: pasteurellasp., mycoplasma, chlamydia, Parainfluenza type 3 virus, etc.

Pasteurella sp. most common agent.

Characterized by high fever (106-108°F)

May result in lung abscesses at slaughter.

Poor ventilation is a leading cause of respiratory problems.

Treat with antibiotics

Respiratory Problems

Other causes: OPP, lungworms, nasal bots, ketosis, acidosis

Other Common Problems

  • Nutritional

  • Reproductive

  • Skin

Nutritional / Metabolic

  • Pregnancy toxemia

  • Milk fever

  • Enterotoxemia

  • Floppy kid syndrome

  • Acidosis

  • Urinary calculi

  • Polioencephalomalacia

  • Listeriosis

  • Bloat

  • Copper-related

  • Selenium-related

Usually occurs in lambs/kids that are consuming large amounts of concentrate, but may also occur on pasture and with heavy milking dams

Type C - 0-30 days

Type D - >30 days

Predisposed by abrupt change in feed.

Treatment (anti-toxin) is usually unrewarding.


Vaccination of pregnant dams and offspring*

Avoid sudden changes in dietdon’t let creep feed run out

Low level feeding of antibiotics

Plenty of feeder space

EnterotoxemiaOvereating disease, pulpy kidney disease

Caused by bacteria, clostridium perfringins type C & D

Usually affects fastest growing lambs/kids. It is not uncommon to find them dead, with no prior symptoms.

*Vaccine is not as effective in goats.

Affects kids between 3 and 10 days of age (normal at birth)

Most common late in kidding season.

Causes muscle weakness, ataxia.

Cause unknown, but suspected to be gastro-intestinal, a metabolic acidosis.

Treat with sodium bicarbonate and supportive therapy.

Floppy kid syndromeFirst documented in 1987

Caused by excessive consumption of concentrates/grain which changes acidity of rumen.

Treat with antacids, sodium bicarbonate.

Prevent with proper feed management.

Introduce and increase grain slowly in diet.

Feed whole grains, grains that digest slower

Include forage in diet.

Split grain feedings; feed forage first.

Buffering agents.

(Lactic) AcidosisGrain overload, grain poisoning

Blockage of urethra by calculi (stones) causes retention of urine.

Wethers are most prone (early castration).

Treatment depends upon severity of condition.

Usually caused by too much phosphorus in the diet, i.e. an imbalance of calcium and phosphorus in the ration (< 1:1).

Urinary CalculiWater belly, urolithiasis, calculosis, kidney stones

Proper ration balancing

Ca:P ratio should be at least 2:1.

Legumes are a good source of calcium.

Cereal grains have a poor ratio of Ca:P.

Commercial feeds are balanced for Ca and P.

Do not add anything to balanced rations.

Ground limestone can be added to the ration as a source of calcium.

Free choice minerals do not ensure proper intake of minerals.

Adequate water intake important

Salt in ration(0.5% ammonium chloride in diet)

Urinary CalculiWater belly, urolithiasis, calculosis, kidney stones

Affects the central nervous system.

Mimics other neurological conditions.

Caused by a thiamin (Vitamin B1) deficiencynot insufficient thiamine, but the inability to utilize it

Symptoms: blindness, star gazing.

Usually occurs in animals on high concentrate diets, but may also occur on pasture.

Treat with thiamine injections.

PolioencephalomalaciaPEM, polio, cerebrocortical necrosis

Occurs 4-6 weeks after bacteria is consumed.

Results in neurological symptoms: depression, disorientation, head tilt, facial paralysis, walking in circles.

Most commonly associated with the feeding of moldy silage.

High mortality; uterine form causes abortion.


If recognized early, treatment with high doses of antibiotics can be effective.

Caused by bacteriaListeria monocytogenes

Listerioiscircling disease

Pasture/frothy – caused by consumption of legumous forages (alfalfa and clover), lush cereal grain pastures, wet grass, or finely ground grain.

Treat with anti-foaming agent, mineral or vegetable oil.

Prevent with good grazing management and poloxalene.

Limit legume content of pastures to 50% or less.

Consider non-bloating legumes (birdsfoot trefoil, lespedeza)

Feedlot/free gas – associated with grain feeding

Treat by passing stomach tube; rumenotomy in life threatening situations.

BloatOccurs when rumen gas production > rate of gas elimination.

Copper toxicity(more common, esp. sheep)

Caused by too much copper in diet or not enough molybdenum (and/or sulfur).

For sheep, there is a narrow range between Cu requirements and toxicity levels.

Goats need and tolerate higher levels of copper in their diet.

Copper deficiency

Anemia, ataxia


Steely, stringy wool

Copper-relatedCopper has important role in fertility and health.

Inadequate Se can affect growth, reproduction, immunity.

White muscle disease

Degeneration of the skeletal and cardiac muscles

Caused by a deficiency of selenium, vitamin E, or both

Can be a problem wherever selenium levels in the soil are low

Preventing/treating problems

Vitamin E/Selenium supplementation in feed, mineral mix, or via injections

Treat with Vitamin E/Se injections

Be careful when giving Se: it is more toxic than other trace minerals.

Selenium-relatedSelenium and Vitamin E are interrelated.

Reproductive Problems

  • Abortion

  • Dystocia

  • Metabolic: pregnancy toxemia and milk fever

  • Mastitis

  • Vaginal and uterine prolapses


Chlamydia Enzootic Abortion, EAE

Vibriosis Vibrio campylobacter




Cache Valley Virus (mosquito vector)


Toxoplasmosiscaused by protozoa that causes coccidiosis in cats

AbortionTermination of pregnancy or birth of weak or deformed lambs or kids that die shortly after birth.

The organisms that cause abortion in ewes/does can cause abortion in women.

Prevent spread of infectious agents.

Strict sanitation.

Disposal of infective material.

Isolation of aborting females.

Submit proper samples to a diagnostic lab.

Blood sampling.

Immediate vaccination.

Use of antibiotics.

Dealing with an abortion stormOver 5% of herd/flock – seek veterinary assistance

The organisms that cause abortion in ewes/does can cause abortion in women.

Maintain a closed flock/herd.


Low level feeding of antibiotics.

Prevent contamination of feed and water.

Control cat population.

Avoid stressful, overcrowded, and/or unsanitary conditions.

Feed Rumensin® or Deccox®.

Preventing abortion storms

The organisms that cause abortion in ewes/does can cause abortion in women.

Abortion – dead or dewormed babies

Abnormal presentation of fetus(es)

Unusually large fetus

Small pelvic area

Fat mama

Vaginal prolapse

Ring womb – failure of cervix to dilate

Dystocia (difficult births)New Zealand study showed that dystocia accounted for 50% of newborn lamb deaths.

Know when to assist

Straining for over an hour with no progress.

Know how to assist

Be clean and gentle.

Use plenty of lubricant.

Determine presentation/ problem.

Have ewe/doe stand or elevate her hindquarters.

Use antibiotic on any ewe/doe you assist.

Call a veterinarian or experienced shepherd if you have worked on a ewe/doe for more then 30 minutes with no progress.

Dystocia (difficult births)New Zealand study showed that dystocia accounted for 50% of newborn lamb deaths.

Low blood sugar caused by an inadequate intake of energy during late gestation.

Breakdown of fat produces toxic ketone bodies.

Mostly commonly affects fat, thin, old, and/or females carrying multiple births.

Symptoms: lethargy, sluggishness, lack of appetite, poor muscle control, inability to rise.

Treatment is to increase blood sugar by giving glucose orally, sub-Q, or IV. C-section in extreme cases.

Prevent by providing enough energy in diet and providing adequate feeder space.

Pregnancy toxemiaketosis, twin lamb disease, lambing paralysis, hypoglycemia

Low blood calcium

Caused by inadequate intake of calcium during late pregnancy or inability to mobilize calcium reserves prior to or after parturition.

Similar symptoms as pregnancy toxemia.

Can occur before or after parturition.

Treat with commercial calcium solutions sub-Q or IV.

Prevent by providing proper amount of calcium in diet.

Don’t under or overfeed calcium.Save alfalfa hay for lactation. Feed mixed hay in late gestation.

Milk Feverhypocalcemia, parturient paresis

ProlapsesMore common in sheep than goats.

  • Three kinds

    • Vaginaltends to repeatgenetic component

    • Uterinenot genetic**life-threatening

    • Rectal(not usually reproductive)Risk factors: sex, diet, genetics, health, and length of tail dock.




Prolapses have many predisposing factors/causes.

MastitisA major reason for culling ewes (46%)

  • Inflammation of the udder

  • Usually caused by bacteria Streptococcus sp., Staphylococcus sp., Pasteurella sp., and coliforms, such as E. coli.

  • Acute, chronic, or sub-clinical.

  • Both halves - could be OPP.

  • Treat with antibiotics

    • Systemic

    • Intramammary

  • Prevention

    • Good sanitation

    • Proper management at weaning.

    • Dry cow treatment

    • Later weaning

    • Cull females with “lumpy” udders.

Diseases affecting the skin

  • Soremouth

  • Ringworm

  • External parasites

Most common skin disease of sheep and goats.

Caused by a virus from the pox family.

Causes lesions on mouth, lips, nostrils (teats, scrotum).

Problematic during lambing/ kidding season and if you show/exhibit.

Normally runs its course in 1 to 4 weeks.

Very contagious, including to people (orf).

There is a live vaccine for it. (don’t vaccinate if you’ve never had it).

Soremouthcontagious ecthyma, contagious pustular dermatitis, scabby mouth, orf

Fungal disease

Usually occurs in show lambs.

Results in hair loss, scabs, lesions, and pustules.

Contagious, to humans as well.

Treat with fungicides.

Ringwormclub lamb fungus, lumpy wool, wool rot

External parasitesEndoparasites

  • Keds (sheep tick)

  • Ticks

  • Lice

  • Mites

  • Blowflies/maggots

  • Nasal bots

Treat with insecticides – dip, spray, or pour- on.

Some anthelmintics are effective against biting parasites (e.g. ivermectin)

Clean, dry environment

Keds, ticks, lice, (mange) mites

Caused by parasitic dipterous fly larvae feeding on the host’s necrotic or living tissue.

Occurs when flies lay eggs in moist wool or open wound or break in the skin.

Can cause death.

Prevent by proper docking, mulesling, and insecticide treatments.

Treat with insecticide applications.


Occurs when female fly lays batches of newly hatched larvae in sheep or goat’s nostrils.

6-month life cycle. May be 2 generations per year.

Symptoms: sneezing, coughing, jerky movements of head.

Can cause bacterial infections and reduce performance.

Treat with ivermectin sheep drench.

Nasal BotsHead bot, sheep bot, Oestrus ovis

A few other interesting health issues

  • Hypothermia and Starvation

  • Tetanus

  • Pinkeye

  • Entropion

  • Spider lamb disease

  • Epididymitis

Starvation - #1 cause of death

Make sure dam has milk and lets lambs/kids nurse

Make sure lambs/kids consume adequate colostrum (check bellies).

A well-fed lamb/kid stretches when it rises.

Mild hypothermia (99-101º F)

Dry and warm up lamb/kid

Tube feed colostrum, if necessary

Severe hypothermia (<99º F)

Intra peritoneal injection of 20% dextrose

Slowly warm up lamb/kid

Feed colostrum by stomach tube

Hypothermia and Starvationmost common causes of lamb and kid mortality

Clostridial disease, in soil on most farms

Usually related to docking and castrating, especially by elastrator bands

Oxygen-starved tissues are ideal for tetanus organism

Any puncture wound can harbor the tetanus organism.

Symptoms: stiffness caused by muscle contractions.

Treatable in early stages with antitoxin.

Prevent with vaccination

Vaccinate ewe/doe with tetanus toxoid prior to parturition OR

Vaccinate lamb/kid with tetanus antitoxin at time of docking, castrating, disbudding to provide immediate temporary immunity.

Tetanuslock jaw

Pink eyekeratoconjunctivitis

  • Most common causes are mycoplasma and chlamydia.

  • Different agent than affects cattle

  • Highly contagious

  • Usually runs its course in ~ 3 weeks

  • Treat with topical and systemic antibiotics

Lower eyelid is inverted, causing the eyelashes of the lower lid to brush against the eye

Causes irritation and tearing

Treat with antibiotics or staples, sutures, or clips

Heritable trait – don’t use rams or bucks with this trait.

EntropionInverted eyelid

Genetic defect causing skeletal deformities.

Inherited as a genetic recessive disorder

SS - normal sheep

Ss - normal sheep (but carrier)

ss - spider lamb

Spider lamb diseaseovine hereditary chondrodysplasia

DNA TestingWhite pedigree – ancestors have not produced spider lambsGray pedigree – ancestors have produced spider lambs

Venereal disease of rams/bucks caused byBrucella ovis.

Contagiousmale to female, male to male

Inflammation of the tip of the epididymis.

Causes varying degrees of damage – infertility.

Only half of rams respond to antibiotic treatment.

Damage is permanent.

Prevention – buy disease-free or virgin males, test and cull, vaccinate.





Epididymis functions in the transport and storage of sperm cells produced in the testicles.

Viral(retroviruses)Similar to aids virus

Ovine progressive pneumonia (OPP)

Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis (CAE)


Caseous lymphadenitis (CLA)

Johne’s Disease



Wasting Diseases

Internal (sheep) and external (goats) abscesses.

Pus in external abscess is initially pale green; becomes thicker in sheep.

Usually affects animals > 6 months of age.

Animals with internal form show weight loss and poor productivity, and may exhibit mastitis, respiratory distress, chronic cough or neurological deficits.

Internal form is a leading cause of sheep carcass condemnation.

Treatment: lance abscess and flush with iodine solution.

Caseous lymphadenitis (CL or CLA)cheesy gland, boils, abscesses

Caused by bacteria Corynbacterium pseudotuberculosis

Zoonotic potential - ???

Controlling/eradicating CLA

Separate or cull affected animals

Practice good hygiene and management.

Purchase from CLA-free flocks/herds.

Vaccination can reduce severity of disease.

Do not vaccinate naïve flocks/herds

Caseous lymphadenitis (CL or CLA)cheesy gland, abscesses, boils

Caused by bacteria Corynbacterium pseudotuberculosis

Retroviral infection of goats which may lead to chronic disease of joints and encephalitis (rare) in young kids.

Similar to OPP in sheep.

CAE virus is primarily transmitted to kids through colostrum.

Contact transmission is rare, but possible.

No treatment or vaccine is available.

Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis (CAE)

Control/eradicate CAE

A positive blood test means the goat has antibodies for the virus.

Cull seropositive goats from the herd.

Separate kids from dams and feeding kids artificially.

Buy from CAE-free herds.

Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis (CAE)

Ovine Progressive Pneumonia (OPP)Maedi-Visna

26% of the sheep in the United States are infected with the OPP virus

  • A slowly progressive viral disease caused by an ovine lentivirus.

  • Similar to CAE.

  • Sheep are infected for life.

  • Some breeds more susceptible

  • Primary means of transmission is through the ingestion of infected colostrum and milk.

  • Contact transmission possible.

  • Symptoms

    • Loss of body condition, “thin ewe syndrome”

    • Increased breathing at rest

    • Fever, cough, lethargy, nasal discharge

    • Hard bag

  • No treatment or vaccine

Control/eradicate OPP

Test and remove all seropositive sheep every six months until three consecutive negative tests are achieved.

Presence of antibodies is not indicative of immunity

Most infected sheep never show symptoms, but serve as carriers of the disease.

Separate lambs from infected ewes and rear them artificially.

Buy OPP-free breeding stock.

Ovine Progressive Pneumonia (OPP)

Cattle, sheep, and goat strains

Environmental transmission


Emaciation, wasting disease

Profuse, watery diarrhea seen in cattle is not common in sheep/goats

Johne’s Disease paratuberculosis

Caused by bacteria Mycobacterium paratuberculosis

Victoria, Australia

Small intestine

Ohio State University

Difficult to diagnose.

No treatment.

Difficult to control.


Maintain a closed flock/herd

Be careful with cow colostrum

Testing less reliable in sheep/goats

Vaccination may lower the number of clinical cases

Theoretical link to Crohn’s disease in people.

Johne’s Disease

Small intestine

Ohio State Univ.

Fatal disease affecting the central nervous system of sheep and goats.

Neurological symptoms:

Intense itching

Behavior changes

Lack of coordination

Gait abnormalities


Transmitted via infected placenta.

Males not considered to be a risk.

Can be spread by infected feed.

Contact/environmental transmission ???

Clinical signs appear 2 to 5 years (or later) after the animal has been infected.

ScrapieGoal is to eradicate by 2010 and for U.S. to be declared scrapie-free by 2017

In sheep, susceptibility is determined by genetics.

Resistant genotypes have not been found it goats – yet.

Low incidence in USA

1/500 sheep.

90% in Suffolk/black face sheep.

15 goat cases since 1990

Only Australia and New Zealand are considered scrapie-free.

Scrapie is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE).

ScrapieGoal is to eradicate by 2010 and for U.S. to be declared scrapie-free by 2017

Many TSE’s

Theoretical link between scrapie and mad cow disease and between mad cow and new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in people.

Always fatal.

Infective agent believed to be a prion, abnormal protein.

Long incubation periods.

Diagnosis post-mortem (brain tissue).

Massive regulations

Massive research

Many theories

Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE)

Increased slaughter surveillance.

Mandatory identification of sheep and goats in commerce.*

Voluntary scrapie flock certification program.

Recommended for flocks/herds selling breeding stock.

Third eyelid testRectal biopsy

Genotyping for scrapie susceptibility

Scrapie EradicationGoal is to eradicate scrapie by 2010 and or U.S. to be declared scrapie-free by 2017.

*Regulations vary by state.

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