Joint ill in lambs

Joint ill in Lambs


What is Joint ill in lambs?

Joint ill in lambs is a common affliction affecting lamb health.

“An overwhelming number of lambs fall prey to a common condition called ‘joint ill’, a bacterial infection in the joints of lambs transmitted via wounds created from ear tagging, castration and docking sites or after entering the body through the umbilical cord.  These infections can be fatal or cause paralysis if untreated. Muddy conditions allow small wounds to fester in their feet and the cold causes their immune system to falter giving the bacteria a distinct advantage”. Dr Robert Gropel MVSc

The most common bacteria involved is Streptococcus dysgalactiae, that typically infects the lamb in the first few days of life. Signs of lameness usually start to show between 5 and 10 days after birth with the severity depending on the number of joints involved. If detected early enough Joint ill in lambs can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Left untreated it can result in the death of the lamb. 

The infection is spread by bacteria entering the body and spreading through the blood stream. A key area for the entrance of this bacteria is through the site of the umbilical cord. Once the bacteria enters at that site it spreads through the body.


Sign of Joint ill in Lambs


Joints that are hot

Joints that are painful to touch

Joints that are swollen


Treatment of Joint ill in Lambs

Joint ill in lambs is usually easily treated, if attended to early enough, through the administering of an antibiotic.


Avoidance of Joint ill in lambs

Two key areas to avoiding Joint ill is good hygiene and attention to the navel and umbilical cord. Diluted betadine should be applied to area several times after birth.

The Victorian Farmers Federation also states that prevention of this illness is possible by minimising bacterial contamination of wounds and by keeping lambing paddocks well drained and free of mud with adequate grass cover. A second preventative measure is to have ewes vaccinated so they will transfer passive immunity to their lambs through the colostrum or first milk. NSHMP-Arthritis.pdf (


Stella, a story of Joint ill in Lambs left untreated

When young Stella arrived into the care of Lamb Care Australia she was in a world of pain. Severely affected by untreated joint ill, Stella’s young joints were swollen more than we had ever seen before in any lamb. She could not be touched anywhere without crying out in pain. 

Although we did all we could to reduce her pain and cure her illness, little Stella was beyond help and the only compassionate path was to have her euthanized. Stella lost her life to an easily treatable illness that was left to fester and grow.



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