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Introduction: Pneumonia, sometimes called goat shipping fever, is one of the most common problems encountered in sheep and goats today. Lambs and kids are particularly susceptible to pneumonia. It is a significant cause of decreased productivity and increased treatment costs. Early diagnosis and proper treatment are critical in controlling this problem.

Causative Agents: Most cases of pneumonia are caused by bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections. Pasteurella haemolytica and Pasteurella multocida are bacterial organisms carried in the respiratory tract of many normal animals. Most newborns are exposed to these organisms, but do not develop the disease because of natural resistance, a healthy environment, and ingestion of antibodies in colostrum that help control the infection. Viral agents such as parainfluenza-3 (PI3) are common in sheep and goats and can increase susceptibility to infection by causing inflammation of the respiratory tract. Certain infections of ovine progressive pneumonia (OPP) and caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE) can cause pneumonia in sheep and goats. Other organisms, including Mycoplasma, Dictyocaulus (lung worms), and Eimeria can also cause lung problems.

In many cases, high humidity, dust, damp bedding, excessive heat, tight buildings with inadequate ventilation, and irritating gases such as ammonia compromise disease resistance and natural defense mechanisms in the sheep or goat, allowing pneumonia to develop. Weakness from a difficult birth, inadequate intake of colostrum, and other stresses contribute to the development of pneumonia in nursing animals. Often, a mild viral infection will occur, compromising the animal and allowing secondary bacterial infections to take place.

Clinical Signs: Young nursing animals that develop pneumonia commonly lose weight, become gaunt and lethargic, fail to nurse, and usually have a moderate fever. If the pneumonia remains undetected, serious lung damage will result and treatment will not be effective. Additional clinical signs include the following:

  1. Clear to yellow, runny to thick nasal discharge.
  2. Coughing and/or rapid breathing.
  3. Harsh lung sounds heard when listening with a stethoscope.
  4. Fever (temp. >103.5°).

Young animals that recover are susceptible to relapse during the feeding period and are more likely to suffer from heat stress and chronic cough. Coughing can lead to serious problems with rectal prolapse in feeder lambs.

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Disease Transmission: Most of these infectious organisms are spread by direct contact with body fluids (saliva, nasal discharge, etc.) and fecal material. These problems can also be transmitted from one animal to another by contaminated hands, buckets, feeders, troughs, and equipment.

Diagnosis: Because lethargy and fever in sheep and goats may have several causes, a careful physical examination is required. In many cases, an exact (definitive) diagnosis is made by post-mortem (necropsy) examination. This list contains some key areas to help determine a diagnosis:

  1. The initial diagnosis can be made from general appearance and physical exam. The information on page C888 show regions of the lungs that should be listened to when using a stethoscope.
  2. Culture and sensitivity performed on nasal secretions or on samples taken at necropsy can help identify the specific cause of the infection.
  3. To accurately identify an infectious cause of pneumonia, a transtracheal wash performed by a veterinarian, with culture and sensitivity, may be necessary.

Treatment: Treatment must be based on early identification of affected individuals and depends on whether the cause is bacterial, viral, or parasitic. Fluid therapy, if practical, often helps the recovery rate. Producers should be sure that sick newborns are nursing or that they are provided supplemental milk via stomach tube. In serious outbreaks, it is often advisable to treat all exposed animals with a therapeutic dose of antibiotics for several days.

  1. Bacterial Causes -
    • Treatment with antibiotics such as penicillin, tetracycline, Albon, Gallimycin and even LA-200 may be considered. Like most bacterial infections, culture and sensitivity testing is recommended. See the antibiotic information in Section H.
  2. Viral Causes -
    • Treatment for all viruses involves treating the symptoms, not killing the virus. With this in mind, fluids, anti-inflammatory agents (Banamine), and antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections are recommended.
  3. Parasitic Causes -
    • Most parasites can be treated using ivermectin or doramectin. Routine de-worming will also help prevent the parasitic causes of pneumonia. Additional suggestions can be found on page B620.

Prevention and Control: Good management is the key to preventing respiratory problems. Producers with young animals that have pneumonia often have ventilation problems in the lambing/kidding and nursing facilities. Most commonly, the areas lack ventilation, resulting in high humidity and noxious gasses such as ammonia. In these conditions, the concentration of infectious organisms also rises. Well-ventilated (but cool) housing is probably ideal. Newborn animals should be dried off and then provided adequate colostrum intake. Weaker animals that fail to nurse should be provided colostrum via a stomach tube. Keep the bedding dry or newborns will chill and develop pneumonia. Do not skimp on bedding during the early nursing period.

Newborn animals should be provided supplemental heat only until they are dry and have nursed. Avoid overcrowding and do not keep the birthing areas too warm. Other than exposure to heavy drafts, healthy animals can tolerate cold fairly well. If electric fans are used, there should be at least four air changes per hour.

Parainfluenza-3 virus is a mild but common infection of young animals. Vaccination of young lambs (in problem flocks) with nasal IBR-PI3 vaccine at two or three days of age has helped reduce problems in some cases. The IBR vaccines should not be used in goats; there is a chance that the vaccine may actually cause this disease!

* If an animal has an infectious cause of pneumonia, it should be isolated from the rest of the flock/herd. No matter the cause of the pneumonia, caution should be used to prevent additional spread of the disease by contaminated clothing, hands, buckets, troughs, etc.

This picture demonstrates how to listen to an animal’s lungs. Listen to both sides of the animal. With practice, normal and abnormal lung sounds can be identified. It is not uncommon to hear the normal passage of air in and out of the lungs. If fluid movement, crackles, or wheezes are heard, it is considered abnormal. See page C888 for additional details.

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More Goat info, More Sheep info

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