Prevention and treatment of the disease in sheep and goats 

White Muscle Disease (WMD) strikes in all breeds of sheep and goats. The degenerative muscle disease occurs most commonly in newborns. Though there are treatments for White Muscle Disease the best management option involves prevention. 


The cause of White Muscle Disease is selenium and/or vitamin E deficiency. “Vitamin E and selenium work together to preserve the integrity of the cells of the body. When an animal is deficient the cell membranes get destroyed and the cells breakdown so there is a lot of muscle damage, and then the muscles are not developed,” Dr. Lionel Dawson, DVM, and professor at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said.

The cells of an animal with White Muscle Disease are not stable so when blood reaches the muscles it does not enter, thus leaving the muscle pale in color giving the disease its name. White Muscle Disease impacts an animal’s skeletal and/or cardiac muscles. 

Kids and lambs born with White Muscle Disease are deficient in selenium and/or vitamin E because their mothers lack the essential minerals. Additionally, mineral deficient does or ewes fail to pass along adequate amounts of selenium and vitamin E to their kids and lambs through their colostrum. 


The symptoms in newborn animals are weakness, difficulty getting up, problems breathing and inability to nurse. In some cases, the disease causes sudden death. In lambs and kids other symptoms are pain when walking, trembling when standing and mild stiffness. 

Producers can also determine if a lamb or kid has White Muscle Disease because not only will the newborn be unable to suckle but it cannot swallow. A newborn with White Muscle Disease cannot swallow because its muscles are not developed. 


The most effective management strategy to combat White Muscle Disease is through supplementing the diets of does and ewes with adequate selenium and vitamin E. Careful supplementation is required as too much selenium can be toxic. According to Dr. Dawson, small ruminants should receive .30 parts per million (ppm) of their diet in selenium and 100 units per pound of feed of vitamin E. Producers will want to consult with their veterinarian to determine the best supplement amounts for their flock or herd.

In parts of the Ozarks the soil is deficient in selenium. Therefore, on those operations small ruminants are failing to get the proper amount of selenium from their forages. A soil sample collected and tested can help producers determine if they have selenium deficient soil. 

Though it is best to prevent White Muscle Disease through proper nutrition and supplements, producers can give does and ewes a BoSe injection approximately four weeks before they give birth. BoSe helps to boost the mother’s selenium and works to ensure lambs and kids receive the proper amounts of the mineral prior to birth. A BoSe injection can also be given at birth to newborn animals that show signs of White Muscle Disease. Producers will want to consult with their veterinarian for specific dosage instructions. 


There are few treatments for White Muscle Disease. If the disease is isolated to the skeletal muscles, treatment with vitamin E and selenium injections may improve symptoms. However, if the disease impacts the cardiac muscles even animals that are treated rarely thrive.


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