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Dr. Taus
Dr. Taus, Veterinarian
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Experience:  Veterinarian with experience in equine and small animal medicine.
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I have a 4-5 year old ewe that stagers badly and has done so

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I have a 4-5 year old ewe that stagers badly and has done so for about 3 months. She initially appeared sick about 3-4 weeks after delivering twins, she was separated from the other sheep and placed on hay only and was given two doses of antibiotics 1 wk apart. She has not improved at all in that she is unable walk 2 steps without tripping, falls when lambs nurse but is still powerful when restrained for shots/evaluation. Lambs have been weened. Also last year I had another ewe with similar presentation but without any intervention and she died leaving her lambs to be bottle fed. This was again a few weeks after birthing. I did feed the ewes (I only have 2) rolled corn with hay for a few weeks before and after birthing in addition to the pasture. Any Ideas of treatment for my stumbling ewe?
Hi there,
I'm sorry to hear that your sheep are having trouble. What you are describing is quite the mystery. The signs you describe are typical of problems in the cerebellum, the part of the brain that coordinates movement-- this is why she is strong even though she staggers and stumbles.

Usually in cases like these, where the signs have been going on for a while and more than one animal is affected, I suspect a toxin or a nutritional deficiency. Fungal organisms that grow in some pastures and on some hay, such as perennial ryegrass staggers and ergotism, can show these kinds of signs. I'd recommend having your hay tested. There is no specific treatment for these problems, though-- just getting rid of the bad feed and seeing how they do.

Copper deficiency can also cause signs like this, although it's usually in younger lambs. If you don't already, add a mineral block designed for sheep (not goats) to your pasture. We usually think of sheep getting sick from copper toxicity, but sometimes deficiency can be a problem too.

There are a few hereditary neurologic problems in sheep that can show up later in life. There are no treatments for them, however, so you should be aware that they may be a possibility.

I think if the problem was going to be treatable with antibiotics or dewormers, your sheep would have either recovered or passed away by now. It is possible too that your sheep may have experienced injury to her brain from pregnancy toxemia or other acute illness when she first became sick, and having survived, she is left with neurologic deficits.

If adding a mineral block designed for sheep and testing your hay/pasture yields no results, I do not know of a specific treatment that is likely to improve her signs. If she does not survive, I would recommend a necropsy by a veterinarian to determine the cause of her illness definitively. This could help you protect your flock in the future.
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