Baby lamb scours

by: Dr. G.F. Kennedy

At lambing time we get calls about lambs dying at a few days of age. Generally lambs are depressed, have a watery mouth, and may have a wet tail. When it happens the first few days of life it is E coli. Later Rota virus and Cryptosporidiosis may be the culprits and while not common very difficult to deal with. Later, two weeks or more, we get the dark scours that indicates coccidiosis. Occasionally salmonella enters the mix.

The purpose of this post will be to concentrate on acute E coli type scours. We have already discussed the symptoms, now for the solution. Once it gets started it is very difficult to deal with. Our best approach has been to allow lamb to suckle its first feeding of colostrum and then treat it orally with an antibiotic. Spectinomycin and Neomycin are drugs commonly available and used. There are other options but they require a prescription so when possible you need to work with your veterinarian if these commonly used drugs fail. I am aware of situations so bad that dozens of lambs had died, none surviving, and when the correct antibiotic was found all survived there after. Isolation of the E coli bacteria from untreated lambs, if successful, can result in an autogenous bacterin that can be used to immunize ewes to protect next years lamb crop.

One new product that is available is OVIshield, an antibody supplement for newborn lambs less than 24 hours of age. The supplement contains antibodies from hyper immunized certified sheep. It can be used orally or subcutaneously.

Once symptoms develop, treatment can be unrewarding, oral and parental electrolytes are indicated as well as oral and injectable antibiotics. Changing lambing areas and not allowing pregnant ewes to commingle or reside where ewes and lambs have been is important. As the season progresses, in the same lambing area the opportunity for the disease increases.


About Ask-a-Vet Sheep

Veterinary services, procedures, biologicals, and drugs mentioned in this publication represent the personal opinions and clinical observations of the contributing author. They are in no way intended to be interpreted as recommendations without the consent of the producer’s own practicing Veterinarian. We strongly urge that producers establish a patient-client-veterinarian relationship that allows extra-label use when there are no drugs approved for treatment or if approved drugs are not effective. This procedure allows veterinarians to go beyond label directions when “prudent use” is necessary. The limited availability of drugs and biologics in this country is a major factor in restricting the growth of the sheep industry and allowing producers to compete in the world market place.
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