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Pulpy Kidney Disease in Sheep and Goats: Symptoms and Prevention Control Measures

Pulpy kidney (enterotoxaemia) is a disease of sheep, goats and cattle. It occurs in sheep when a bacterium that normally inhabits the animal’s intestines without causing problems begins to multiply and produce a toxin that poisons the animal. This disease is caused by bacteria that often exist within the sheep’s intestine but only cause disease symptoms under certain circumstances such as a change of grazing, exhaustion, sudden dietary changes and dosing with dewormers.

Pulpy kidney most commonly occurs in rapidly growing un-weaned or weaned lambs, on lush pasture or grain.

Pulpy kidney can be prevented by maintaining a sheep vaccination program.

The bacteria in the intestine produce a toxin (poison) which results in death.

It’s symptoms vary as sometimes the goats are found dead while at other times, they either:

(1) appear exhausted, show paralysis and a loss of consciousness and may have labored breathing, salivation and diarrhoea or

(2) have nervous symptoms with convulsions, accompanied by salivation, grinding of teeth and muscle twitches until death.

The Dead Animal: The carcass decomposes quickly and there are haemorrhages on the heart and blood under the skin in the neck region.

The lungs may contain excessive amounts of blood and the heart sac may contain fluid.

The kidneys may appear enlarged, dark red or pale brown and decomposed. They may contain large amounts of blood.

Although this disease occurs more often in sheep, it can be prevented.

Pulpy Kidney Disease in Goats: Symptoms and Prevention Control Measures

Alternatively vaccinate lambs with Enterotoxaemia Vaccine (including a booster injection) and then repeat vaccination annually.

Give 1ml per animal as a subcutaneous injection.

Note: It is often advised that animals first be vaccinated against pulpy kidney before deworming.

Treatment is not possible rather prevent it through proper and recommended vaccination.

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Signs of pulpy kidney:

Lambs

  • good condition
  • found dead, often on their side with limbs extended and head thrown back
  • die quickly with convulsions.

Adult sheep

  • good condition
  • often found dead
  • may stagger
  • may scour.

Post-mortem signs (in recently dead sheep)

  • haemorrhages under the skin and on the heart and kidney
  • straw-coloured or blood-tinged fluid, sometimes with soft, jelly-like clots in the sac around the heart
  • small intestines tear easily and their contents are sparse and creamy
  • carcass decomposes within a few hours of death
  • the kidneys usually decompose more rapidly than the other organs and become dark and jelly-like, hence the common name ‘pulpy kidney’. However, sheep can die from this disease without the kidneys becoming pulpy.

Signs of focal symmetrical encephalomalacia (FSE)

  • aimless wandering, blindness, lack of coordination
  • may scour
  • die after a few days.

In FSE, the only changes are in the brain, which usually can only be seen under a microscope.

Treatment

There is no antidote or specific treatment for sheep affected by pulpy kidney. A veterinarian may prescribe treatment for valuable animals but the prognosis for affected animals is poor.

Ideally, when the disease is first diagnosed, vaccinate the affected group immediately then turn them on to poorer feed or hay for at least two weeks, until immunity develops. If pulpy kidney occurs in a previously vaccinated flock, give an immediate booster dose to restore immunity and prevent further losses.

A change in diet alone will usually stop an outbreak, but without vaccination the disease could reappear later. If the sheep are not vaccinated and their diet is not changed, an outbreak of pulpy kidney may continue for some time. Mortality rates may be as high as 10% of the group and it is usually the best sheep that die.

Prevention

Pulpy kidney can be prevented by maintaining a sheep vaccination program.

The vaccine is available in various combinations:

  • with tetanus and cheesy gland (CLA) vaccine (3-in-1 vaccine)
  • with other clostridial vaccines, such as that for tetanus, blackleg, black disease and malignant oedema (6-in-1 vaccine)
  • with selenium and vitamin B12 (or both)
  • with moxidectin (in an injectable form) to treat worms.

Sheep not previously vaccinated must have at least two injections, four to six weeks apart, to achieve long-term high-level immunity.

To maintain a high level of immunity, booster doses are needed at yearly intervals. Generally, the two initial injections, followed by annual booster injections over the next two years, will protect sheep for life.

If the booster injection is given to ewes in late pregnancy, the lambs will receive temporary immunity via the colostrum, which will protect them for about six weeks. Lambing ewes need a booster dose every year.

Sheep classPulpy kidney vaccination
LambsTwo doses of vaccine 4-6 weeks apart
EwesAnnual booster 2-6 weeks before lambing
Other adult sheepAnnual booster vaccination (provided they had initial vaccination course)
Introduced sheepAdult sheep not previously vaccinated, or with an unknown vaccination history, need two doses 4-6 weeks apart.

Booster doses may also be necessary in special instances, such as when putting sheep onto storm-damaged grain crops or into a feedlot.

If producers choose not to vaccinate, it may be possible to prevent pulpy kidney by avoiding sudden changes to better feed.

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