Clostridial disease advice for Northamptonshire sheep and lambs

March 7, 2021

Clostridial disease is the most common cause of sudden death in UK sheep and lambs, and a serious threat to farming. Towcester Veterinary Centre’s large animal veterinary team in Northamptonshire has answered your frequently asked questions about it below.

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What is clostridial disease?

There are 10 important strains of bacterial clostridial disease including the list below. It’s not the bacteria that causes death, it’s the spores that multiply and produce toxins when ingested. The threat is everywhere as the bacteria is found in soil and in the intestinal tract of animals and humans.

  • Lamb Dysentery – Lambs typically die showing no clinical signs.
  • Pulpy Kidney – Seen in 4-10 week-old lambs born to unvaccinated dams.
  • Braxy – Characteristically occurs in unvaccinated, weaned lambs in winter, after eating frosted root crops.
  • Tetanus – Can be more prevalent on farms with horses; hind leg stiffness, difficulty walking, seizures, opisthotonus, death from respiratory failure.
  • Blackleg – Caught through skin wounds, dog bites, shearing cuts, untreated umbilicus, trauma to the posterior reproductive tract, and via contaminated needles/injection equipment.
  • Black disease – Toxins in the liver cause migrating liver fluke damage/death.

What are the symptoms of clostridial disease?

The first sign of clostridial disease is usually dead sheep or lambs as the onset is so quick – death occurs within hours. Each type of clostridial disease will present differently, however, clinical symptoms include scouring, abdominal pain, collapse, hind limb stiffness, convulsions, and a high temperature.

How do you treat clostridial disease?

Unfortunately, as most infected animals will be found dying or dead, the only antibiotic to kill the bacteria (penicillin) is usually ineffective. Therefore, vaccinations are vital to protect your sheep & lambs from these devastating diseases.

When can you vaccinate sheep & lambs against clostridial disease?

Newborn lambs are given passive immunity via a vaccinated mother in the first milk (colostrum). The mother can be boostered with a 5-in-1 vaccine approx. one month before the due date to increase the offspring’s length of protection. Antibodies can be added to the colostrum until the lamb is old enough to be vaccinated, which is around marking time when the mother’s milk production is dwindling.

Active immunity requires a primary vaccination course consisting of two doses 4-6 weeks apart. A booster vaccine for clostridial disease should then be given no later than 12 months after the primary course, and repeated annually.

Clostridial Vaccinations – are you covered? Contact us to book your next round of vaccinations.

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