If you have a sheep with bloat, you must help her quickly. Bloat, or gas accumulation, is a potentially fatal condition. It can kill so fast, often the first sign is a dead sheep. Sheep are ruminants, with a stomach consisting of four compartments. Bloat occurs when froth, or foam, is produced in the rumen. The foam prevents the gas release, resulting in enormous pressure.
Frothy Bloat in Sheep
Signs of frothy bloat include abdominal distention, breathing difficulties and kicking at the stomach, as with colic. The sheep is obviously in pain. Contact your veterinarian, but be prepared to use a stomach tube for gas relief to treat your sheep until the vet arrives. Begin by trying to make the sheep belch by lifting her gently and applying pressure to her sides and stomach. If that doesn't work, pass a rubber tube down her throat and into her stomach. This act should release some gas. If it doesn't, your sheep is likely suffering from frothy bloat rather than mere gassiness. Mix baking soda and water and put it into a drench, then release the contents down the sheep's throat. This helps get rid of the trapped gas.
In addition to having baking soda handy, keep bloat treatment medication treatment on hand. One such product, distributed by Vet One, is available through your veterinarian and reduces gas in the rumen. The active ingredient consists of docusate sodium, while the inactive ingredient consists of soybean oil. The product must be administered through either a stomach tube or a drench.
Abomasal Bloat in Lambs
Abomasal bloat most often affects lambs, especially those not fed by the ewe but bottle-fed by people. The mortality rate is quite high, with the overwhelming majority of lambs succumbing. Only treatment at the first sign of the disorder can save the lamb. Abomasal bloat generally hits between the ages of 2 and 4 weeks, likely caused by a bacteria build-up in the stomach.
Symptoms include lethargy, abdominal swelling and teeth grinding as a pain response. Since this is an emergency, mix baking soda into water and syringe it into the lamb's mouth for acid neutralization. Call the vet immediately. The vet can insert a needle into the last compartment of the lamb's stomach for gas relief. She can also give the lamb oral penicillin, pain medication and an injection of hyloscine, metaclopramide, and vitamin E and selenium to help treat the bloat.
Grazing your sheep on legumes, such as clover or alfalfa, is an invitation to bloat. Since it's not always possible to avoid legumes in the pasture, certain management precautions can reduce bloat incidence. Before turning sheep out on the pasture, give them plenty of grass hay, so they don't gorge too much on the fresh grass. Whenever you introduce your flock to a new pasture, watch them closely for the first few hours, because this is when bloat often occurs. Once their bodies adapt to the new grass, bloat is less likely. Feed your sheep poloxalen, sold under the name Bloat Guard, which helps prevent froth development in the rumen. Your vet can advise you on how much poloxalen to feed daily.
- Merck Veterinary Manual: Bloat in Ruminants
- Drugs.com: Bloat Treatment
- University of Maryland Extension: Abomasal Bloat
- University of Wisconsin Extension: Bloat
- Purdue University Agriculture: Preventing Pasture Bloat in Sheep
- USAID: Ethiopia Sheep and Goat Productivity Improvement Program: Bloat in Sheep and Goats -- Causes, Prevention and Treatment
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.