Common Sheep Ailments
What you might spot
What is normal?
Parameter Sheep Goats
Ruminations 2 per minute 1-2 per minute
12 to 20 breaths per
15 to 30 breaths per
70 to 80 beats per
70 to 90 beats per
(packed cell volume)
27 to 45%
22 to 28%
Watch for Environmental Stresses on
• Handling and transportation stress.
• New surroundings.
• New pen mates
• Contact with other animals.
• Close quarters.
• Strange people.
• Different water, food
• Heat stress.
Anything out of their normal routine.
• Dogs & coyotes
• Black vultures
Internal parasites (GI worms) are the primary health problem
affecting sheep. The barber pole worm (Haemonchus contortus) is
the worm of primary concern.
The barber pole worm is
a blood-sucking parasite
that causes blood and
protein loss (anemia)
and edema (“bottle jaw”).
Worms have developed resistance to most of the
#2 - Back - Body Condition Score
• Many worms can cause a loss of body condition.
• Poor or declining body condition can also be a sign of age, poor
nutrition, or other diseases.
• Animals also vary in their ability to carry and hold body condition.
#3 - Tail - Dag Score
• The hindquarters of the
animal are assessed to
determine dag score or
degree of fecal soiling.
• Many worms can cause
• Stress and diet are other
causes of diarrhea.
Score Description Action
0 No fecal soiling at all. No indication for treatment/action. None
1 Very slight soiling on edge of tail/on each side None
2 Slight soiling on edge of tail/on each side Usually none
3 Moderate soiling, dag formation Consider treatment/action
4 Severe soiling, severe dag formation Treatment recommended
5 Very severe, watering diarrhea extending to hocks. Treatment essential
#4 - Bottle Jaw
(submandibular subcutaneous edema)
• An accumulation of fluid (swelling)
under the lower jaw of a sheep,
goat, or calf.
• Usually a result of anemia (blood
• Occurs primarily due to the
infestation of barber pole worms
(Haemonchus contortus) or other
#5 - Wool Condition
• Wool can be indicative of its overall health and thriftiness.
Sheep loosing wool due to fever or lice
Skin Diseases: Soremouth
contagious ecthyma, contagious pustular dermatitis, scabby mouth, orf
• Most common skin problem in
• Caused by a virus in the pox
Highly contagious to other
sheep/goats, as well as to
• Lesions most commonly seen on
mouth and lips.
blisters → ulcers → scabs
• Clears up in 1-4 weeks.
Skin Diseases: Ringworm
• Caused by a fungus.
Can be transmitted to humans.
• Transmitted by animal,
equipment, or surroundings.
• Slick shearing makes lambs more
• Causes skin lesions.
• Definitive diagnosis is made by
culturing the fungus.
• Heals on its own in 8 to 16
Foot Rot and Foot Scald
• Foot rot is caused by the interaction
of two anaerobic bacteria and is
Foot rot has a characteristic foul odor.
• Foot scald involves only one
bacteria and is not contagious.
• Primary symptom is lameness in
one or more feet.
They appear the same until you
examine the feet.
Foot rot infection is in hoof vs.
foot scald which is between
Disease of concern: Caseous lymphadenitis (CL)
• Disease has internal and
• Abscesses at lymph-gland
• Caused by a bacteria.
• No human cases have been
reported in U.S.
• An inflammation of the inside of the
• Usually bacterial in cause (chlamydia,
• Different from pinkeye in cattle.
Usually infectious and contagious to
other sheep and goats.
Symptoms: watery, red, swollen yes;
formation of new blood vessels’
cloudiness in white part of eyes; tearing;
and crusting (yellow or green pus).
• Mild cases heal in 10 to 14 days; severe
cases may take 6 weeks to heal.
• Caused by an accumulation
of gas in the rumen and
reticulum; animal unable to
belch. There are two kinds of
Caused by diets that promote the
formation of froth (foam): legumous
forages, wet, grass pastures, cereal
grain pastures, garden greens, and
Caused by diets that promote
excessive free gas production: high-
grain diets .
Abomasal bloat can occur in
artificially-reared lambs/kids. It is
caused by improper milk feeding.
Severity varies, can be life-threatening
Distended abdomen, swelling on left side
Varies by severity
Passage of stomach tube (free gas)
Drench with vegetable oil, mineral oil, antacid
Introduce to feed or pasture slowly
Feed dry stemmy hay before allowing access to legume
Commercial bloat preventatives, ionophores, baking soda
Proper milk feeding.
Diarrhea – Scours
Increased frequency, fluidity, or volume of fecal excretion.
• E. coli
Normal stool is hard round balls, but feeding can alter consistency.
High temperatures + high humidity
• Rapid breathing.
• Inability to stand
• Elevated rectal
104°F; critical over
• Transport and work during cool part
• Clean, fresh drinking water.
• Cooling therapy
Spray with water (cold water may be too much
of a shock).
Wet head, legs, and stomach
Rubbing alcohol to the area between the hind
Do not soak a wooled sheep with cold water to
attempt to cool them.
• Fluids, drugs
• Multi-factorial problem
– Sex (female)
– High level of grain feeding
– Short tail docks
• Can repair prolapse, but
animal is usually salvaged.
• Most infections are caused by
bacteria: Streptococcus spp.,
Pasteurella spp., and coliforms (e.
Mastitis is also a common symptom of
OPP and CAE.
• Stressful conditions (e.g. weather)
• Poor sanitation, hygiene
• Teat and udder damage
• Poor udder conformation
• Heavy-milkers, age
• Sore mouth
• Genetic susceptibility
Where Not to Find Your Flock
• Start with healthy stock
• Buy from reputable breeders
• Isolate new animals for at least 30 days
Reduce risk of zoonoses
Clean and disinfect items other flocks
Have designated boots for off-farm use, wash clothing
• Start animals on regular vaccination plan
• Inspect for footrot, caseous lymphadenitis, skin
conditions and external parasites
• Deworm or evaluate for internal parasites (egg
• Test for diseases of concern via blood samples
(CAE, OPP, Johnes, CL)
• Start animals on regular nutrition program
• Examine animals regularly
– Keep track of weight, abortions, disease, etc.
• Keep track of sick animals, treatments, etc.
• Know what’s normal so you recognize
• Cull susceptible animals
• Necropsy dead animals
Basic Assessment of Health
– Good body condition
– Bright eyes with good eyelid
– Dry nose or slight clear (or white)
discharge from nose.
– Head and ears up
– Tail up (goat)
– Healthy hair coat
– Clean hocks and hindquarters
– Formed stools
– Freedom from scabs, sores,
– Normal gait
– Poor body condition
– Runny, red, or swollen eyes. Pale
– Colored discharge from nose
– Head and/or ears handing down
– Droopy tail (goats)
– Rough hair coat
– Scabs, abscesses, sores.
– Soiled hindquarters
– Runny or liquid feces; blood or
mucous in feces
– Abnormal gait
Normal Behaviour: Flocking
• Sheep will run from
what frightens them
and band together in
large groups for
protection. This is the
only protection they
have from predators.
There is safety in
Normal Behaviour: Following
• When one sheep moves, the rest will follow,
even if it is not a good idea.
• Even from birth, lambs are taught to follow the
older members of the flock. Ewes encourage
their lambs to follow. The dominant members
of the flock usually lead, followed by the
Normal Behaviour: Socializing
• Sheep are a very social animal. In a grazing
situation, they need to see other sheep.
• A sheep will become highly agitated if it is
separated from the rest of the flock.
Normal Behaviour: Sight
• Sheep depend heavily upon their vision. With
only slight head movement, sheep are able to
scan their surroundings.
• On the other hand, sheep have poor depth
perception. This is why they will often stop to
examine something more closely. They tend to
avoid shadows and sharp contrasts between light
and dark. They are reluctant to go where they
Normal Behaviour: Hearing
Sheep have excellent hearing. They can amplify
and pinpoint sound with their ears.
Sheep are frightened by sudden loud noises,
such as yelling or barking. In response to loud
noises and other unnatural sounds, sheep
become nervous and more difficult to handle.
To minimize stress, the handler should speak in a
quiet, calm voice. Sheep should not be worked in
the presence of barking dogs.
Normal Behaviour: Smell
• Sheep have an excellent sense of smell and
know what predators smell like.
• Sheep use the sense of smell to locate water
and detect differences in feed and pasture
• Sheep are more likely to move into the wind
than with the wind, so they can use their
sense of smell.
Normal Behaviour: Touch
• Since most of their body is covered with wool
or coarse hair, only the sheep's lips and
mouth (and maybe ears) lend themselves well
to feeling behaviour.
• Groups of animals that have body contact
Abnormal Sheep Behaviour
• A sheep or lamb that is isolated from the rest of the flock is likely
showing early signs of illness.
• Lack of appetite is probably the most common symptom exhibited
by a sick sheep.
Sheep spend about fifteen percent of their time sleeping, but may lie down
and rest at other times. Upon rising, they often defecate and stretch. A sheep
that is reluctant to get up is probably in pain. A sheep takes a long time to lay
down is probably in pain. A sheep that cannot relax is under stress. Teeth
grinding is another common sign of pain in sheep.