Catching sickness before it’s too late

Detecting symptoms that a sheep or goat is sick in time for effective treatment starts with daily, observation of the flock or herd. “People who have sheep and goats need to know the normal behavior of those animals,” Dr. Lionel Dawson, DVM, and professor at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said. Once producers understand their animals’ typical behaviors, habits and attitudes it is easier to catch signs of illness.

Signs of Sickness

Dr. Dawson recommends producers try to pick the same time or times each day to check on their sheep or goats. If an animal’s behavior is out of the ordinary, the producer should take a closer look at the animal.

 A few tips something may be wrong include drooping ears on goats, swelling, bloating or an animal standing alone or not chewing its cud. Animals should be brought in for a closer examination if they show any signs of diarrhea, loss of appetite, grunting or teeth grinding. 

Observation Times

In the heat of the summer, early morning and/or evening is a good time for flock and herd observation. In the early morning prior to animals grazing, producers can get a more accurate indication of the animal’s respiration. According to Dr. Dawson, normal respiration should be 15 to 30 per minute, keep an eye on the animal’s rib cage or thorax to count the number of respirations. 

 In males, observe them to make sure their bowel movements and urination are normal. If the animal is hunched up or standing stretched out, then it may be struggling with an infection. Some animals may also struggle with kidney stones. This is more prevalent in show animals that are receiving substantial amounts of grain. 

Examine the hair on goats and hair sheep. A shiny coat indicates the animal is healthy, a dull coat can be an indicator of illness. 

Don’t Wait to Intervene

Livestock experts stress the importance of immediate action if a producer suspects a goat or sheep is sick. Many times, the animals will look okay until the last minute. “When they get really sick, they go down and when they go down – seldom they get up,” Dr. Dawson explained. “So, you need to pick them up before they go down.”

Once producers determine it is necessary to bring an animal in for further observation, there are several things to check. First, take the animals temperature, keep in mind an animal’s temperature will vary depending on the time of day. 

Next, examine the membrane around the animal’s eyeballs. It should be a bright pink color. If the tissue around the eyeball is white, that is a sign the sheep or goat has anemia caused by a parasite infection. Dr. Dawson recommends producers check their animals for signs of anemia every two weeks during the times of the year when parasites are thriving in the fields. 

In addition, determining body condition will let a producer know if their animal is healthy or not. Dr. Dawson suggests producers run their hands along the animal’s spine and sides to get an accurate understanding of the animal’s body condition. Feel to determine if the animal has flesh and muscle around its spine, ribs and sides. 

Examine for Illnesses

Along with pneumonia and pinkeye sheep and goats are susceptible to many other diseases. A contagious virus called sore mouth impacts kids and lambs and causes blisters on their mouths and gums. “Sore mouth is very contagious to humans as well, so you need to wear gloves when handling an infected animal,” Dr. Dawson said. 

Caseous lymphadenitis (CL) is another illness to be aware of that can impact herds and flocks. This bacterial infection most commonly causes goats’ lymph nodes to swell. Many times, the lymph nodes on a goat’s ear, lower jaw, and scapula will swell into an abscess. Dr. Dawson recommends wearing gloves when treating the abscess and disposing of the puss. The bacteria that cause CL can live for long periods of time in the soil. It can also spread to humans through a cut in their skin.


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