Lamb Scour

Lamb scour

Your lambs may scour (have diarrhoea) at any age and for a variety of reasons. Scour can be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, nutritional issues, and many other factors. Any of your lambs that are scouring will be losing fluids as well as vital electrolytes and therefore fluid therapy that addresses these electrolyte imbalances is an important part of supportive therapy for them.

Reducing the risk

Maintaining good hygiene during lambing is crucial to reduce the risk of scour amongst your flock. The pathogens that cause disease are found in the environment and are shed in the faeces of older animals that have developed immunity. Therefore, minimising environmental contamination is essential to keeping your flock safe. Every attempt should be made to keep housing clean and dry, and reduce draughts, where possible. This needs to be maintained throughout the lambing period.

Scour may result in slow return to normal growth rates

Scour can be defined as a failure of net intestinal uptake of sodium (a salt) and water such that the absorptive capacity of the colon is overwhelmed, resulting in the passage of liquid faeces. As salts and water are lost into the faeces, your lamb will become dehydrated and may develop acidosis, as well as other issues related to the loss of vital electrolytes. Your lamb may well lose weight or fail to thrive as it needs energy to repair the gut. Failure to correct the fluid and electrolyte balance may result in death and certainly a very slow return to normal growth rates.

How can you treat a scouring lamb?

Whatever the cause of the scour, the treatment for your lamb should aim to:

  • Address the cause, if possible
  • Assess and correct dehydration
  • Address acidosis/electrolyte imbalances
  • Maintain energy

If any of your scouring lambs are too weak to stand or have lost their suckle reflex they should be assessed by us as soon as possible as intravenous fluids may be necessary.

Keep scouring animals on milk

You should continue milk feeding for your lambs which allows all the benefits of milk, especially its high energy levels, to be utilised by the scouring lamb for maintenance, growth, and repair, as well as promoting gut healing and providing natural antibacterial activity. Milk has a very high energy level that is very difficult to replicate by any oral rehydration therapy. It is also important to ensure your scouring lambs have access to fresh water, as they will require extra fluid.

Choosing an oral rehydration therapy (ORT)

Oral rehydration therapy (ORT) product requirements include:

  • Energy provision to repair the gut and maintain growth
  • Sodium supplementation to restore deficits lost in scour
  • Alkalising agent to correct the electrolyte imbalance.

The electrolytes and alkalising agents included need to correct the imbalance, but not overdo it. Some alkalising agents can over alkalise the abomasum and, in doing so, promote the growth of pathogens such as E coli and salmonella. Many ORT products contain high levels of bicarbonate or citrate which can affect milk clotting and therefore should be fed separate from milk, by 2 hours, ideally. Please call us for advice on ORT.

It is important to note that your lambs will continue to scour until the gut is healed, so they may appear clinically well but still have loose faeces.

If you have any concerns regarding your flock please call us for advice.