Sheep producers everywhere know that ... > Animal Health > Sheep Diseases">Milk Fever can be very devastating to their herds. Because of this, it is extremely important to know what causes this condition, how to detect it as early on as possible, and how to treat it successfully.
Milk fever, also known as hypocalcemia or parturient paresis, generally afflicts ewes in the late stages of pregnancy when their body demands the highest levels of calcium. The causes of this metabolic disease are generally attributed to the calcium levels in a ewe's body being deficient or an inability of the ewe's body to properly mobilize built up reserves of calcium before or immediately after lambing.
When calcium levels are low, ewes are generally weakened, experience loss of or difficulty in certain muscle function, a loss of appetite, similar to the symptoms of the condition of toxemia during pregnancy. In extreme cases, low calcium levels can cause the terrible consequence of total heart failure and death in sheep.
Detecting Milk Fever is not the easiest process. For one thing, the condition is not a fever at all. Sheep afflicted with this disease generally have slightly lower than normal temperatures as opposed to elevated ones. In mild cases, sheep may actually seem quite normal, however may have difficulty in standing or staying on their feet for more than a short amount of time.
In this first degree stage, the ewe can generally be administered calcium gluconate and its condition is likely to improve within a short amount of time. The prognosis for recovery is quite good, however the ewe must be watched for signs of relapse of Milk Fever and treated accordingly to prevent the disease from advancing to a more progressive stage.
If Milk Fever progresses to the second stage and calcium levels become even lower, the ewe likely has trouble holding her head up, has dilated eyes, and a slowed heart rate. In the third stage of Milk Fever, the ewe is likely laying on its side appearing nearly lifeless with a significantly lower body temperature and heart rate, close to death. In these stages, it is quite likely that veterinarians will need to provide the ewe with calcium supplements intravenously or apply other advanced therapies to bring calcium levels back to where they need to be and preserve the animal's life.
Prevention of Milk Fever is usually possible through proper dietary management, assuring that mineral, including calcium, and fiber levels are at appropriate levels for sustaining a ewe's health, especially during the late gestation period.
Being aware of the signs and symptoms of Milk Fever, realizing how the condition can be treated, and taking necessary steps in preventing it from afflicting your herd is definitely advantageous and a necessity for assuring the health of your ewes, who are essential to expanding a herd over time.