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Farm Vet Carlisle

Metabolic problems of sheep

The information on this page will hopefully help you identify and treat the common metabolic problems of sheep successfully. The treatments don’t necessarily involve injecting ewes into a vein though this may be preferable for lambing sickness and grass staggers. If in doubt please phone a vet.

Twin Lamb (or “Pregnancy Toxaemia”)

Twin lamb is seen in the last month of pregnancy. The ewe is dull, often thin and refuses to eat. She stands separate from the group and is easy to catch. She is often blind. The condition gets worse over a day or two.

Twin lamb disease is caused by an energy deficiency due to the burden of carrying multiple lambs.

To treat twin lamb disease administer 50 to 100ml of 40% glucose under the skin and drench with 50ml propylene glycol (e.g. Ceto Phyton) by mouth.

Separate affected sheep and put them on the best feed you have available.

Not all sheep will respond to treatment.

Some ewes may respond better if they are also given an injection of steroid though you are best discussing this with a vet first.

Many ewes with twin lamb will also have low calcium levels in their blood (see below) and will also benefit from an injection of calcium.

Hypocalcaemia (or “Lambing Sickness”)

The symptoms are similar to milk fever in cattle. The condition is usually seen in late pregnancy. The ewe is incoordinated or down and may be bloated. She will have deteriorated over a few hours. Some sheep will have a discharge from their nose and this can be mistaken for pneumonia.

Lambing sickness is caused by low levels of calcium in the blood.

The condition often co-exists with twin lamb disease.

Treat lambing sickness with 50-100ml of 20% Calcium (PMD) under the skin and consider also treating for twin lamb if the ewe isn’t markedly improved in an hour of two.

Unlike twin lamb disease ewes with lambing sickness usually respond dramatically within an hour or two. If the calcium is injected into a vein ewes that were recumbent or ‘comatosed’ can be walking around normally within a couple of minutes. This confirms the diagnosis of lambing sickness and not twin lamb disease as no such response is seen if the ewe is down with twin lamb.

Hypomagnesaemia (or “Grass Staggers”)

This condition is also called grass staggers when it’s seen in cattle and it is caused by low magnesium levels in the blood. It gets worse of a few minutes and leads to rapid death if not treated promptly. The condition usually occurs after lambing and on lush grass but can also occur on bare fields.

The sheep is excitable and convulsions follow.

Treat by giving 50ml of magnesium sulphate under the skin. Administering magnesium into the vein will result in a faster response and will be more likely to save the ewe.

To discuss the management of metabolic diseases or another other sheep problem please contact a vet at the surgery.