What diseases are common to older lambs/kids?


Many different diseases can affect older lambs/kids. Most can be prevented with good management and proper nutrition.

Lambs/kids 1 to 6 months of age are most commonly affected by coccidiosis, a protozoan parasite that causes diarrhea (scours) and ill thrift. Coccidosis can be prevented with good management and hygiene and strategic use of coccidiostats (Bovatec®, Rumensin®, or Deccox®) in the feed, mineral, water and/or milk replacer. Clinical coccidiosis is treated with amprolium (Corid®) and sulfa antibiotics, both extra label for sheep/goats.

Enterotoxemia (overeating disease, pulpy kidney disease)
High levels of starchy foods and anything that slows gut movements will predipose lambs/kids to enterotoxemia or overeating disease (caused by clostridium perfringins type D) . Disease is usually caused by a sudden change in rumen conditions due to a sudden change in feed. Deaths are mostly sudden. Usually, the best animals are stricken. Treatment of enterotoxemia is usually unrewarding, unless the disease is caught early on. Treatment consists of antisera, antibiotics, and supportive therapy. Vaccination is the cornerstone of prevention of enterotoxemia. Ewes/does should be vaccinated 1 to 2 months prior to lambing/kidding. Lambs/kids should be vaccinated at approximately 6 and 10 weeks of age. Goats do not respond as well to vaccination and may require more frequent vaccination.

Internal parasites (worms)
Lambs/kids under six months of age are most susceptible to gastrointestinal parasites. This is because they lack immunity. Many species of parasites can affect lambs/kids, but the barber pole worm (Haemonchus contortus) is the most deadly. It primariliy causes anemia (blood loss), which can result in death, slow or quick. Clinical parasitism is prevented with good management, holistic in nature. Clinical parasitism is treated with antiparasitics (dewormers). Due to increasing drug resistance, it is now recommended that clinically-parasitized sheep/goats be given combination treatments (more than one dewormer at the same time).

Pneumonia is inflammation or infection of the lungs. Somtimes, the infection is secondary to something else. There can be many causes of respiratory distress including bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other diseases. Predisposing factors include high humidity, poor ventilation, wet bedding, overcrowding, and inadequate nutrition. Signs of pneumonia include coughing, labored breathing, nasal discharge, and fever (over 103.5°F). Treatment for pneumonia is usually with broad spectrum antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. Most of the medications are extra label and prescription. Pneumonia can be a flock/herd problem, so affected animals should be put in isolation. Vaccination can help prevent pneumonia. There is a sheep/goat vaccine for pneumonia caused by Pasteurella. Some producers use an intranasal cattle vaccine for pneumonia caused by parainfluenza (PI3).

Polio (polioencephalomalacia)
The most common cause of polio is a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency. Another cause is excessive sulfur intake, a risk when sheep/goats are fed by-products of the ethanol industry. Polio can also be triggered by amprolium therapy (for treatment of coccidiosis). Polio is most commonly associated with dietary changes. It is most common in animals fed high concentrate diets. Symptoms of polio are neurological. Star gazing and blindness are the classic symptoms. If caught early enough, polio can be successfully treated with thiamine (Rx) injections. Vitamin B complex can also be used to treat polio, though pure thiamine is preferred. Sometimes, dexamethasone (Rx) is used to treat cerebral edema that is a result of polio.

Scours (diarrhea)
Scours is more a symptom than a disease. There can be many causes including bacterial, viral, parasites, other diseases, diet, and stress. Successful treatment requires knowing the cause of the diarrhea. A fecal exam may help. If the animal does not have a fever, there is usually no need to administer antibiotics or anti-inflammatories. Diarrhea is often self-limiting and will go away on its own, especially in mature animals. Probiotics are frequently given. In severe cases, the lamb/kid may require rehydration (electolytes).

Tetanus (lock jaw)
Tetanus is caused by the bacterium clostridial tetani. Tetanus spores enter the body via a wound due to husbandry procedures or accidental wounds. The tetanus bacteria produce a neurotoxin that causes prolonged muscle spasms, resulting in death. Treatment (tetanus antitoxin, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories) is usually unrewarding, unless it is administered early in the stage of the disease. Vaccination prevents tetanus. If ewes/does were not vaccinated in late pregnancy, lambs/kids can be given the tetanus vaccine (antitoxin or toxoid) at the time of docking/castrating. Pipestone Vet recommends an injection of penicillin at the same time. Good hygiene at the time of docking, castrating, disudding, and other husbandry practices is important in the prevention of tetanus and other diseases.

White muscle disease (stiff lamb disease)
White muscle disease is caused by a deficiency of selenium and/or vitamin E. It is a degenerative muscle disease that can affect all large animals, including sheep/goats. Both cardiac and skeletal muscles can be involved. Rapidly growing animals and weaners are most at risk. White muscle disease can be prevented by supplementing selenium and/or vitamin E in areas where soils are deficient. The disease is treated with injections of selenium/Vitamin E (Rx).


Additional reading
Coccidiosis: Sheep 201
Enterotoxemia (Overeating Disease) of Sheep and Goats
Understanding how to prevent and treat polioencephalomalacia in sheep and goats