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Common Illnesses and Diseases




Bottle Jaw versus Milk Goiter

Bottle jaw is an accumulation of fluid under a sheep's lower jaw. It usually indicates that the sheep is very aenemic as a result of a heavy infestation of barber pole worms or liver flukes. If you see it, quickly deworm your sheep; bottle jaw indicates that death is imminent.

However, bottle jaw is often confused with milk goiter, which is a swelling of the thymus bland that is often seen in hair-sheep lambs. Milk goiter feels like a soft ball under the skin and occurs exactly where the throat meets the jaw. Milk goiters spontaneously disappear by the time the lamb is 7 months old.

 Photo courtesy of Pam Hand, Free Union, VA  Drawing from Sue Weaver's book The Backyard Sheep


Broken Leg


Coccidiosis usually affects lambs. By the time that clinical signs can be observed, it is often too late. The first sign of coccidiosis is that lambs may not be thriving as well as expected. They may have mild diarrhea and have a dirty butt.  Soon, lambs begin to lose their appetite and become weak and unthrifty. Lambs may become anemic and strain to pass feces. As the disease condition worsens, affected lambs may experience severe diarrhea, with streaks of blood, followed by severe dehydration and death.

Several drugs are used to treat coccidiosis, including sulfa drugs, tetracyclines, and amprolium (Corid®). Conventional dewormers have no effect on coccidiosis.

Medications for treating coccidiosis in sheep
Meat withdrawal
Amprolium Corid®
1 pint of 9.6% solution in 100 gallons of drinking water
5 days
7 to 21 days
1 oz (3 oz 9.6% solution in 1 pint of water) per 100 lbs. daily or 50 mg/kg (read the study here)
5 days
Sulfadimethoxine Albon
1 pint of 12.5% solution in 25 gallons of drinking water
3-5 days
1 day
4 cc of 12.5% solution per 25 lbs. of body weight daily
3-5 days
  Sample dosages are from the fact sheet Coccidiosis in Lambs by Dr. Joe Rook, Michigan State University.

One of the best discussions of this disease is provided at





Pneumonia, the number one lamb disease, occurs because of a lack of colostrum, because of "mastitis milk," or because ewes are heavily infected with pasteurella (99% are infected, so the organism is always present). A lamb contracts pneumonia because it can't stand such stresses as too little milk, draft, dampness, and ammonia off a manure pack.

Diagnosis of sick, unthrifty young lambs is relatively simple, because 90% of the time they are either starving or have pneumonia. Strive for early detection and start antibiotic treatment before the lungs have been permanently damaged.

Treatment for pneumonia is to inject the lamb with antibiotics (tetracycline, penicillin, or streptomycin) plus one grain sulfamethazine per pound of body weight. Adequate selenium and vitamin E help the lamb withstand pneumonia.

LA-200 has long been a favorite injection product in sheep and goats for pneumonia (also for foot rot, mastitis and other bacterial infections). A new product on the market is BIO-MYCIN 200, a long-lasting, broad-spectrum antibiotic containing 200 mg oxytetracycline per mL. Dr. G.F. Kennedy of Pipestone Vet Clinic reports that this product is much less painful to the sheep than LA-200 and recommends it when an oxytetracycline product is required. The dosage is approximately 5 cc per 100# given subcutaneous and repeated in 48 hrs.


Polio is a disease that occurs when an enzyme develops in the rumen that results in the animal not being able to produce it's own thiamine, vitamin B1. This condition often occurs when lambs are fed products high in sulfur such as grain by products. Acidosis often accompanies polio. In a thiamine deficiency, dead spots occur in the brain. Animals almost always appear blind and often are found lying with their heads thrown back, as if they are "star-gazing." Treatment needs to be immediate. If not treated in time, the sheep will probably die within 48 hours. Administer 200 mg to 500 mg of thiamine repeated at 12 hr. intervals until animal has recovered and then daily for several days. Because thiamine is water-soluble, it is quickly eliminated from the body through the kidneys and, therefore, there is little risk of overdosing. It is a good idea to keep a bottle of Vitamin B Complex on hand.


Sore Mouth

Sore mouth is a very contagious disease caused by a virus in the pox family. It is also called "orf." The clinical signs of soremouth are pustules or scabs on the sheep's lips and nostrils; sometimes on the udder and genital areas. It CAN be transmitted to humans, so always wear gloves when treating an animal with soremouth. If your flock has never had soremouth, chances are that every sheep will come down with it. Nursing lambs are likely to infect their mother's teats. During the course of the disease (1 to 4 weeks), the scabs drop off and the tissues heal without scarring. Because it is a virus, soremouth does not respond to antibiotics. Generally, most people let it run its course. Some folks apply salves or antibiotic creams to the lesions. WD40 sprayed on the scabs seems to help. (Cover the sheep's nose so she doesn't breath it in.)

For a good description of sore mouth, see