Shepherd Needs Some Help

We have two lambs down and do not know why.  Patsy started showing symptoms Wednesday by not putting any weight on her right front leg.  I looked it over and could not find any evidence of trauma nor foot rot/scald.  It was the Fourth so I did not want to bother the vet.  I was planning on putting the lambs in a pen anyway for some health maintenance, friendly time and to help Magner wean.  I figure having her in a pen would mean she would not walk on it as much and perhaps it would improve.

The lambs had been on our front pasture with some old skinny sheep, Magner’s mom (Moll) and 2 does and kids.  I never noticed any of them being aggressive with the lambs.  I did notice that the pasture had been eaten down pretty far and is quite wet but apart from grass only a few thistles and nettles that I could see for them to eat.  Here is a sample photo of that pasture’s grass:

They shared this pasture with chickens and geese.  They were not being fed hay but were receiving some grain (Cenex All Breed).  They had standard sheep mineral salts and well water (heavy in iron and  sulfur).  I was throwing some chicken pellets on the ground for the chickens that are too stupid to figure out how to fly into their feed pen, and the sheep were nibbling that off the ground but I fed their grain in tubs at the same time so they were distracted away from the chicken feed.  No other exposures I can identify.

Anyway, on Thursday Patsy could not stand up at all.  She seemed to not be able to bear any weight on her front legs and very weak in her rear legs.  She was alert but much less active and vocal than usual.  She did not even try to go to the grain that morning.  I also noticed that Bambam was not putting any weight on his left front leg and was struggling to stand on his rear legs.  He did not get up for grain either.  I gave them Nutridrench and thiamine and called the vet for any appointment for Patsy.

The vet noticed normal vital signs and temperature and no evidence of trauma.  She just seemed weak.  No ataxia either.  She continued  to be alert but was not resisting the exam or talking at all, very unlike her.  She was nibbling hay but not interested in water.  She had normal poop.  He drew a complete blood count and gave her more thiamine IV as well as penicillin and flunixin (an NSAID).  I took her home and gave the same medications to Bambam who no longer could stand.

This morning, the vet called saying the blood count looked like a stress response with increased neutrophils but not suggestive of infection.  He suggested I start selenium and Magnalax as well as continuing the prior medications.  I brought the lambs in for a trace mineral analysis which will be back next week sometime.  He had me give timothy grass hay and hay pellets instead of local hay.

Bambam is walking better today than yesterday.  He seems somewhat trembly though.  Patsy still cannot get up although she tries sometimes.  She is getting more vocal.  They are still eating but not voraciously.  They are starting to grind their teeth.  Here is a video attempt to show you how Bambam is walking (and Patsy is not).


Here’s a list of possible diagnoses per Merck Manual:

Lambs—joint-ill, tetanus, white muscle disease, enzootic ataxia (copper deficiency), polyarthritis (chlamydial), rickets, poisonous plant intoxication (eg, sneezeweed), and contagious ecthyma (orf ); adults—mastitis, epididymitis, and mineral and trace element imbalances; any age—erysipelas (one of the more important, Erysipelas: Introduction), laminitis, bluetongue, ulcerative dermatosis, foot-and-mouth disease, and dermatophilosis.

It includes some infections they clearly do not have.  Listerosis came up as did a brain abscess or meningitis.  But there is no temperature and the CBC was OK.  What about a toxic ingestion?  I cannot find anything that they could have gotten in to.  How about fescue toxicity?  The symptoms are not identical but could be.  I cannot even tell you if there is tall fescue in our pasture or not.  What about copper deficiency?  They are not ataxic.  What about thiamine deficiency?  They do not have the classic star gazing but may be getting a little better after the thiamine.  What about trauma?  If that is the case, it is from another lamb since that is where Bambam was when he went down.  There is no evidence of foot rot or scald in them so I doubt that is it.  But laminitis or arthritis?  How about tetanus?  Again, no classic symptoms and they have been fully immunized.  Our best bet is a central nervous system dysfunction.

So what do other shepherds think?  Other ideas?  Anything else I can try?  I am scared I am going to lose my lambs this year if I do not figure this out fast.  Any help would be really appreciated.

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8 Responses to Shepherd Needs Some Help

  1. Tammy says:

    Wow. I’m so sorry to hear this I just saw your post. I’m praying that they have improved. I can’t see anything from what you said that just shouts out what the problem is. ‘m guessing too that it is an imbalance of some sort—caused by who knows what. I know our weather has been extreme and freaky and that ups the risk of potential problems. It sounds like you are doing everything you can to treat several of the possible scenarios. Not sure if you have this recipe or not –it’s from Lois’ Stonehaven site: Rumen/Bloat Remedy…thanks to Linda Doane.
    1 qt. warm water

    1 tsp. salt

    1 tsp. baking soda

    1/4 cup Karo syrup

    1/2 cup corn oil

    1 raw egg

    1/2 cup yogurt (or more)

    I’ve used it on several sick sheep to help them keep going until they are healed from various ailments. I use a large syringe and give it orally (carefully of course). So sorry I can’t be of any help. Since there are two of them down I would be very suspicious of an imbalance or toxic weed of some sort.

    Take care and hang in there.


    • Donna says:

      Thanks Tammy! I may try that. I feel bad because I have been drenching them with the Magnalax. I do not have corn oil at home. I wonder if olive or canola would be OK.

  2. I’d probably be tempted to give them some bo-se and some extra vitamin e on top of that.

    • Donna says:

      Thanks for your suggestion White muscle disease seems to fit their symptoms except they are a little bit old and I did not know if it came on this fast. The selenium and vitamin E I have been giving them has been oral. The vet thought this would be OK. I am out of the injectable Bo-Se so need a vet prescription to get more.

  3. sheepsclothing says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about lil Magner and Patsy- how scary to not know what’s ailing them and how to treat it. Are they any better this morning?

    • Donna says:

      Bambam is doing better, walking more. Patsy still cannot stand up but she is alert and eating and drinking well. None of the other lambs are affected.

  4. Donna says:

    So good news- I think. Bambam seems fine except he is acting a little oddly. He likes to stand on top of Patsy but it may be because he is terrorized by all the shots I have been giving him. Patsy stood for the first time. She will not put any weight on her left front leg now and cannot stand for long. She’ll lay down like she is weak but she is getting up for grain and eating well. Their last shot is this morning (the last of the penicillin). So something in the shotgun approach helps but I do not know what. I will hear back this week about the trace mineral analysis of their blood, but they did not do the correct blood draw for selenium. So maybe that will give me an answer. At least it does not look like we will have to do a necropsy to figure it out and so far the other lambs are still fine. Now I am hoping Patsy will make a full recovery.
    I REALLY appreciate all your help and suggestions. It made me feel less alone in this situation and may have helped them (hard to know since I tried so many things which helped). So thank you all!


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