Praying sheep need more than divine intervention...causes and cures explained!

Primary tabs

    Brian Divilly's picture

    Many lame sheep adopt a prostrate “praying” posture when lame in a forelimb, or are forced to carry a lame limb. The severe pain leads to decreased mobility and feed intake and can predispose to conditions such as twin lamb disease when the ewe can’t take in enough energy to meet the demands of pregnancy.  Lame ewes won’t milk well for the same reason.

    Three main causes of lameness in sheep are 

    1. foot scald
    2. foot rot (which together account for over 90% of cases) and 
    3. Contagious Ovine Digital Dermatitis (CODD)

    Foot scald is caused by a faecal bacteria. The skin in the interdigital space between the hooves becomes inflamed and looks red and moist.

    Foot rot occurs when a second bacteria invades the scalded skin and digests the tissues of the interdigital space causing a foul smell and can lead to under running of the sole and wall of the hoof. 

    CODD is the third and newer type of lameness and is caused by yet another bug.  The initial lesion will be seen at the coronary band – the area between the hair and the top of the hoof.  One or both claws can be affected and in severe cases the hoof may shell off.

    Treatment of lameness depends on the type of lameness involved.  Lame sheep should always be isolated. 

    Foot bathing can be very useful in a lameness control programme.  Foot baths can consist of formalin or zinc or copper sulphate at the proper concentrations and are good in the treatment and prevention of foot rot and scald, however these are ineffective in the treatment of CODD. 

    Topical antibiotic sprays are usually effective for scald but in the more severe foot rot cases an injectable antibiotic such as oxytetracycline is usually required.  CODD tends to require antibiotic foot baths or antibiotic sprays daily to treat effectively.  Injectable antibiotics and anti inflammatories may also be needed.

    There is a vaccine available for foot rot and used in conjunction with proper husbandry and a good foot bathing regime can prove very effective.  Prevention is always better than cure. 

    If you are worried about lameness in your flock talk to your vet to get a diagnosis and put a proper treatment and prevention plan in place. 

    Contributed by Brian Divilly of Glenina Vets, Galway