Bloat in Lambs

 

How bloat affects lambs

Bloating is another common lamb health issue that unfortunately can kill if not treated early. It occurs when gas forms and accumulates in part of the gut called the abomasal (stomach) and cannot be released. The buildup of gas causes the stomach to distend.

Bloat is a medical emergency and MUST be dealt with quickly. It can be fatal because if the gas continues to build it squashes all the internal organs and the lamb can die in terrible pain.

There are 2 types of bloat: Abomasal and Frothy

 

Abomasal Bloat

Affects bottle fed lambs mostly up to around 4 weeks of age. While the mechanism of abomasal bloat is not completely understood, it is believed to be caused by a build-up of bacteria in the stomach. As the bacteria multiply, the sugars in the milk ferment with excess gas production. At the same time, the stomach becomes more acidic to the detriment of other bacteria. As the gas cannot escape, it bloats the abomasum (stomach). Left untreated a lamb will die.

Symptoms

Lethargy

Swollen stomach

Disinterest in food

Stretching out body

Unwillingness to sit or lay down

Teeth grinding (pain response)

Unsteady on legs

Rapid shallow breathing

 

Treatment

At the first signs of bloat it is vital to act quickly. Do not wait for things to get worse and do not hesitate to call your vet for prompt advice.

Mix ¾ cup of water with ½ cup of baking soda and syringe some (carefully) into the lambs mouth. This will help neutralise the gas.

Massage the lambs stomach area, this helps the gas move. The lamb may belch or pass gas, this is a good thing.

Powdered ginger may help with mild cases of bloat. Mix two tablespoons of ginger in a small amount of warm water and administer with a syringe. Ginger has traditionally been used for the treatment of gastro-intestinal ailments. Pain meds may also be given to affected lambs.

Hold off giving any food

The vet may need to insert a tube into the lambs stomach to help the gas escape or a needle may need to be inserted into the stomach.

If you have penicillin on hand, give 2ml into the muscle and another 2ml orally. 

 

Prevention

Milk that has been overheated is a cause of bloating in lambs. Ensure the milk is never heated above tepid. When checked on your wrist before feeding it should feel just warm. 

Adding some yoghurt to the milk or probiotics may also help in bloat prevention

Feed correct amounts. NEVER feed off milk packet directions as the amount each lamb needs and the frequency of feeding varies from lamb to lamb.

Ensure hygiene is used with bottle preparation

Never change milk brands abruptly. If a milk powder needs to be changed it must be done gradually (¼ new milk with ¾ current then gradually it is increased ½ new milk with ½ current, ¾ new milk with ¼ old)

Do not reheat milk. If there are leftovers from a bottle dispose of the remainder

 

Frothy Bloat

Frothy bloat presents the same way as abomasal bloat but the cause is different. Usually it occurs when lambs have been put on pasture that is too rich. Lucerne is a common cause of bloating in young sheep so we do not advise feeding it to your lambs. Normal grass hay is recommended. With frothy bloat gas is unable to escape because a frothy substance stops it from being expelled. Also a medical emergency we recommend you contact your veterinarian as soon as you notice symptoms.

 

Symptoms

Lethargy

Swollen stomach

Disinterest in food

Stretching out body

Unwillingness to sit or lay down

Teeth grinding (pain response)

Unsteady on legs

 

Treatment 

Contact vet

Massage stomach area

Withhold food

 

Prevention

Do not offer lucerne or clover/alfalfa as it is too rich

Do not allow overfeeding

When first being introduced to fresh pasture monitor closely for signs of bloating

Offer a high grade hay grass

 

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