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Dr. B.
Dr. B., Veterinarian
Category: Large Animal Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 19027
Experience:  As a veterinarian, I have been educated to treat all animals, big and small.
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A number of my sheep have suddenly gone blind. Their pupils

Customer Question

A number of my sheep have suddenly gone blind. Their pupils have expanded to cover virtually the entire iris of the eye - the eyes appear black. They also initially started star gazing and wandering around bumping into things but now are standing still with heads down. Some are lying down and some are still eating. The symptoms seem very similar to PEM. It is winter time so they have been feeding mainly on supplements(pellets). Grass is very limited. 4 days I bought a load of new lucern and within 2 days the sheep were showing these symptoms. I have stopped feeding the lucere and am feeding them hay for more roughage plus dosing them with thiamine(B6) and have injected them with a B complex. There has not been a positive response yet. What more can I do?
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Large Animal Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. B. replied 1 year ago.
Hello & welcome, I am Dr. B, a licensed veterinarian and I would like to help you today.
How long have you been giving the thiamine?
Are any going down, seizing, or any deaths?
Have they been vaccinated at all?
Did you see any fungal contamination on the lucerne?
Any access to heavy metals, chemicals, pesticides or other plants (ie bracken, ragwort, etc)?
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Thiamine for 2 days.
One has gone down but tries to get up but legs are stiff. 2 others are standing still with stiff legs and heads down.
Not recently.
Yes some fungal growth in lucerne.
Expert:  Dr. B. replied 1 year ago.
Thank you,
So, you would say it was stiff not showing signs of paralysis?
Are they on pasture at the moment? What plants do you have out there?
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
There are numerous different plants in pasture( which they have been grazing for 10 years with no problem) but I am restricting them to hay at the moment to increase roughage. The one that was affected first is very weak but still attempts to get up however when we lift her to her feet she cant stand. Most of those affected have been the younger sheep. Only 1 with lambs has been affected.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
When can I expect an answer?
Expert:  Dr. B. replied 1 year ago.
Thank you for your patience (as you can see I had quite a bit to type).
First, I would note that even if the plants have been there for an extended period of time, if the sheep have a reason to graze them (like poor grass or resistance to wanting to eat contaminated feed), then we can see these suddenly cause a problem. And there are a number of plants that can induce these neurological signs that we are seeing. So, not a top concern but one that always has to be in the back of our minds. So, I am glad to hear that they are restricted to the hay.
That aside, I agree with you that PEM would be one of our first concerns with these signs. Still, if we aren’t seeing improvement with treatment, it does mean that we do have to consider other issues. That said, if it has only been 2 days, we’d want to keep treating for at least another few days (at a dose of 10 mg/kg 3-4 times daily).
Otherwise, we do also have to consider other differentials with similar presentations. With multiple animals affected with dilated/blind eyes, we’d have to be most wary of brain based infectious agents and toxic exposures.
Now in regards ***** ***** list of concerns for this situation, we do have a few to consider. And as I am sure you suspect, I too am wary that this all being triggered by the recent Lucerne supply. Especially if there was visible fungal contamination; as aflatoxicosis from fungal toxins would be a major concern for this. Otherwise, we’d be concerned about possible listeria, clostridial enterotoxemia (type D), or vitamin A deficiency. As well, we can see this type of situation with acute lead poisoning, sodium toxicosis, and generally with infectious bacterial meningoencephalitis.
With all this in mind, we do need to tread with care. You were right to remove that feed and start hay. From there, we want to continue the thiamine, potentially supplement Vitamin A, and consider starting the affected animals on Penicillin G (30,000 units per 100lbs of their weight once daily). The latter will help if listeria is present, address bacterial meningoencephalitis, and can at least try to reduce effects if clostridia is to blame (though often we need the toxoid to counter that). Otherwise, we need to keep them hydrated (+/- giving fluids via drench or sterile fluids under the skin) and eating. And while the fungal toxins are a major concern in this case, I would note that generally speaking supportive care is our mainstay of treatment.
So, those would be our concerns at this stage. By removing access to the contaminated feed, we hopefully will see no more new cases. Still, we'd want to use the above supportive care for the compromised ones to treat as much as we can here. Further to this, we'd need to think about having the local vet involved to help narrow our list of concerns further so that specific treatment for the above could be started if need be.
I hope this information is helpful.
If you need any additional information, do not hesitate to ask!
All the best,
Dr. B.
If you have any other questions, please ask me – I’ll be happy to respond. Please remember to rate my service once you have all the information you need as this is how I am credited for assisting you today. Thank you! : )
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Thank you Dr. B. Can the fungus in the lucerne cause bloat and can I treat that with oil dosing?
Expert:  Dr. B. replied 1 year ago.
You are very welcome,
It could; especially if the toxin is affecting ruminal movement/contractions. In that case, do try oil treatment, but monitor them closely. If they aren't settling, we may need their vet out to potentially start them on injectable pro-kinetics to try to keep the rumen moving despite the effects of fungal toxins.
All the best,
Dr. B.
If you have any other questions, please ask me – I’ll be happy to respond. Please remember to rate my service once you have all the information you need as this is how I am credited for assisting you today. Thank you! : )