Common diseases


Silage eye

This is most obviously recognised by noticing excessive tears running down an animal’s face.  Upon closer inspection you can also see redness of the sclera (the white of the eye) and cloudiness of the cornea (the clear glassy surface that you see out of).  It often has a bacterial cause and can be spread by close contact, flies and shared contact with bars on feeders/pens etc. It can be exacerbated by biting wind or rain when the animal’s eyes are unprotected.  It is commonly treated with an intramuscular long acting tetracycline injection and sometimes topical antibiotics (eye cream) depending on the suspected cause.  If these methods are not successful a vet can administer a combined antibiotic and steroid injection to the eyelids.  This has a double function, one to provide antibiotics in close proximity to the problem and two to cause the eyelid to swell up and create a living patch to protect the eye from further damage.  It can be difficult to tell if the problem has healed or not as sometimes the eye will remain cloudy.  However if the tears have gone away this is usually a sign everything is healed.  In very difficult cases a vet will sometimes take a swab to try and grow bacteria from the eye to check the correct antibiotics are being used.

Fly strike

In hot damp weather conditions wounds or areas of soiled wool and fur are attractive to flies which lay their eggs.  When the eggs hatch the maggots can burrow into the living flesh of the animal, causing damage to the flesh, infection and in bad cases septicaemia.  It should be treated by physically removing the maggots and cleaning the area and applying anti-insecticidals to deter flies such as Clik or Crovect.  Bad cases may need antibiotic or anti-inflammatory treatment.

Joint ill

Joint ill is an infection inside the joint capsules of young animals.  You may notice limping/lameness, swollen joints and dull, lethargic animals with a temperature.  The infection usually enters shortly after birth through the naval, but can enter through other wounds or when there is bad hygiene for routine procedures like ringing and tagging.  Joints are immunologically compromised areas so infection in them can be very serious and difficult to treat if not caught early.  It can sometimes have to result in euthanasia as the animals can become permanently crippled.

Ketosis/Twin lamb disease (Cattle/Sheep)

This syndrome can be simplified as a lack of energy/glucose in the blood stream.  It often occurs in older, thinner, multiparous or heavily pregnant animals with multiple pregnancies.  It is common at these times as the uterus is so enlarged that the animal’s rumen (part of the stomach) is squashed and it hasn’t got enough appetite to take in adequate food for its energy requirements.  It is characterised by dullness, recumbency (lying down), reduced appetite and sweet smelling breath (pear drops smell).  It can progress to blindness, coma and death.  It is often treated by administering a ketosis drench to replace glucose levels, however it is often best to get a veterinary check as severe cases may require glucose iv and are often combined with other mineral deficiencies (see milk fever and staggers).


Bloat is a distension of the abdomen on either the left or the right or both sides.  It is usually due to some sort of problem with diet or digestion such as a blockage/outflow obstruction or concentrate/grain overload.  The contents of the stomachs become an abnormal pH and fermentation can set in causing either froth or gas to be produced.  It can be very dangerous as the vastly distended stomachs can be damaged, or they can put pressure on other internal organs including the heart and lungs.  Some forms of bloat can be treated medically by administering a neutralizing agent such as Birp (TM) or vegetable oil and water by stomach tube.  Passing a stomach tube can also cause mechanical release of gas if it is in one of the fore stomachs, but not if the gas is in one of the hind stomachs as the tube can’t pass that far.  In an emergency situation a vet can also pass a needle or trocar through the side of the animal to relieve the gas and in some cases leave this indwelling.  The prognosis can be guarded as many animals having had bloat once will repeatedly get it, especially if the underlying case eg a blockage is not removed.


Scour is another word for diarrhoea.  It is most common in youngstock, although adults can get it and it has many different causes eg, viral, bacterial, parasitic.  The most important thing especially in young animals is to make sure they stay hydrated whilst you are investigating with your vet for the possible cause.  This is done by administering oral electrolyte rehydration products or by placement of an intravenous drip in severe cases.  A dehydrated animal can quickly become collapsed.  Cleanliness especially around birthing and with youngstock is one of the key ways of preventing many types of scour.  Adequate colostrum administration is also very important.


Orf is a viral disease of sheep and goats with a worldwide distribution.  It can also affect people, mainly those in close contact with sheep.  It appears as scabby lesions that can be bloody around the nose, mouth and teats of affected animals.  It is often very prevalent at lambing time as it can be spread between the ewe and her lambs.  Affected lambs do not thrive as well as they are put off suck due to sore mouths or unable to suck as the mothers have sore uncomfortable udders.  It is a production disease, in that it is not often fatal for an individual but reduces growth rates.  As a virus it is often self limiting and there is no specific treatment. In severe cases we may administer pain relief or antibiotics but only if we suspect secondary bacterial infection of the lesions.  In humans it is most commonly seen on the hands as this is the area that most often comes into contact with the sheep.  People usually recover with no problems given time, however it is worth consulting your doctor if you are suspicious as a small number of people can have more severe reactions.  There is a live vaccine for Orf in sheep called Scabivax for use in severely affected flocks.


A neurological condition caused by Listeria.  The Listeria bacteria can be found in spoiled silage and often gains access via small cuts or abrasions in the mouth.  It causes progressive neurological signs including circling, blindness and recumbency.  It is usually treated with a high dose of penicillins.


Erysipelas is a common bacterial disease of pigs as they are more susceptible to it than other animals. It is found in wild animal populations and can survive for long periods in the soil.  It can present as a severe acute form with septicaemia and death or a milder form with skin lesions forming a typical diamond like pattern which can be easily seen  on white pigs but less so on other colours.  Along with the diamonds other symptoms include a temperature and dullness, skin sloughing and necrosis, lameness and arthritis, subfertility and abortions.  Treatment is usually with penicillin based antibiotics.  It can be prevented by vaccination.  It is now also often isolated as a causative factor in joint ill in lambs.  In these cases the pig vaccines are often used off licence in sheep.

Red mite

Red mite is a blood sucking mite of chickens and turkeys.  During the day they live off the birds in sheltered areas of the coop but at night come out to suck blood from the birds.  In small numbers they cause irritation and restlessness, but in large numbers they can cause anaemia and even death in young chicks.  Symptoms to look out for are restlessness, pale combs, loss of condition, drop in egg production, blood spots on eggs and staff or owners complaining of itching.  Mites will only be visible on the bird at night and have a characteristic red appearance.  Treatment is a three pronged approach, disinfecting and cleaning the coop, including small crevices regularly with a poultry safe disinfectant.  Applying diatomaceous earth, a natural power to the chickens which disrupts the mites exoskeleton and supporting the birds with mineral and vitamin supplements.  Many of the products commonly used as ectoparasite treatments in small animals are not licensed in chickens and therefore should not be used in egg producing animals as there is no “safe” withdrawal period.  There are several other parasites that can live on poultry, causing varying degress of problems, including Northen Fowl mite, Scaly Leg mite, Depluming mite and poultry lice. All of these can be visible on the bird during the day.

Dystocia (difficult birth)

Dystocia is the medical term for a difficult birth.  Causes can include a large deformed or in appropriately positioned foetus, smallness of the maternal pelvis or failure of the cervix to open or the uterus to contract.  Many of these problems are due to management and feeding issues.  Some are due to genetics.  It can be difficult to decide when to call a vet and will depend a lot on your own experience as well.  As a rule from first signs to birth labour can take several hours in any animal, but progress should be made during this time.  If the animal is straining unproductively, a calf or lamb appears to be stuck or the animal seems to have started giving birth and then stopped, then intervention may be necessary.  Close observation over the period leading up to and the actual birth is important.  Ring your vet to discuss if you are concerned by anything you see.  We usually run an annual lambing course in early spring for a more detailed and hands on run through.  Dystocia is rarer in pigs due to the comparatively smaller size of the piglets to the sow, however not unheard of so be alert.

Milk fever

Milk fever or hypocalcaemia is a deficiency of calcium.  It usually occurs just before or just after giving birth especially in old or heavily milking animals, most commonly cattle or sheep.  Symptoms include dullness, lack of appetite, a swan shaped neck position, weakness and inability to rise progressing to coma and death.  The best treatment is for your vet to visit and administer calcium IV sometimes alongside anti-inflammatories, energy drenches and fluids.  In a classical milk fever a cow may recover very quickly and literally walk off the needle.  Some people have success administering calcium under the skin in mild cases.  It can be diagnosed by a blood test and avoided by ensuring appropriate condition score and feeding in late pregnancy or by administering pre emptive calcium bolus or paste before calving.


Staggers or hypomagnesaemia is a deficiency of magnesium.  It usually occurs in adult cattle when there are deficient levels in the diet.  The body stores very little magnesium therefore a daily intake is imperative.  Silage or hay usually contains adequate magnesium but we commonly see the condition when cattle are turned out on fast growing pastures in the autumn or spring as the rapidly growing grass contains very little.  Staggers is a medical emergency and your cow can easily die. Symptoms include extreme excitability, trembling, staggering and progressing to falling over fitting and death.  Ring your vet straight away and whilst waiting for vet to arrive administer an entire bottle of Magniject 9 under the skin if safe to do so, being aware of flailing limbs.  This can save the cows life.  Do not attempt to give magnesium IV yourself as you can easily give the cow a heart attack.  To avoid staggers ensure magnesium intake in the diet/supplementary feed at times of lush grass growth, or by administering a slow release bolus into the rumen for all cows.  Some people put magnesium supplements in the water but this is not common as it has to be topped up daily.


Mastitis can take two forms, toxic mastitis which is an emergency or chronic/non toxic mastitis.  In toxic mastitis an infection which starts in the udder rapidly spreads to the rest of the body, causing a high fever and septicaemia.  The affected animal will be quiet, can be breathing heavily, will be off food and dehydrated. The udder is often but not always red and hot and the milk produced is often a watery yellow/brown.  These animals require emergency treatment from a vet.  In non toxic mastitis the infection is confined to the udder, often just in one quarter, there may be clots or pus in the milk and the udder may be swollen or discoloured.  If left too long in some cases it can progress to toxic mastitis. Mastitis can be caught from the surroundings or from flies and the bacteria usually enter through small cuts or abrasions on the teats.  It is usually treated with anti-inflammatories and antibiotics which may be given by injection or placed up the teat.  In toxic mastitis cows will often have to be rehydrated.  It is also important to strip out milk to try and get the infection out mechanically.

Retained foetal membranes

This is the retention of the placenta in the uterus after calving or lambing.  It commonly occurs after difficult births, especially where assistance has been given.  Membranes can often be seen hanging from the animal’s vulva.  If not removed the membranes will rot and cause the animal to get septicaemia which can progress to toxic shock and death if left untreated.  The membranes can usually be carefully manually removed by a vet but only after 3-4 days to allow them to soften, before this it can be too soon to safely unpeel them.  Whilst waiting, the animal should be closely monitored to check she is eating and that her temperature has not spiked, therefore requiring earlier intervention.  RFM is uncommon in pigs and horses and requires immediate veterinary attention in these species as these animals do not tolerate the sepsis very well.


Metritis is an infection of the uterus and often follows difficult births or retained foetal membranes.  Sometimes a smelly red/white vaginal discharge can be seen, however in some cases nothing is seen until a manual investigation of the vulva is done.  In these cases the symptoms will merely be dullness, lethargy and inappetance.  It can be chronic (long acting) and mild which will often clear up on its own or with intrauterine antibiotics administered through the cervix by a vet.  Or it can be toxic and acute (fast acting) in which case the animal may require immediate systemic anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and fluids for dehydration.


Pneumonia symptoms can include a mild cough and failure to thrive, nasal discharge, rapid shallow breathing, dullness, lethargy and inappetance due to the difficulties breathing and a high temperature.  It is more common in youngstock, although can affect any age group.  The causes of pneumonia can be bacterial, viral or even parasitic and it is often difficult to distinguish which is occurring without tests.  It is always worth seeking veterinary advice on the best treatment to use on your farm.  Prevention measures include ensuring ventilation is adequate but not too much draft to make animals cold, beds are clean and dry, stocking density is not too high and different age groups of stock are not mixed.

Uterine Prolapse

A large red/purple protuberance from the vulva often with lump cotyledons on it, sometimes bleeding, foetal membranes may still be attached.  This is a veterinary emergency.  Ring the vet who, using an epidural, can try to replace it in the animal.  Some animals will die despite best efforts due to excessive internal/external bleeding from torn blood vessels, damage to the uterus or infection.  Whilst waiting for the vet to come try to keep the prolapse clean and restrain the animal in a safe environment where it can’t walk around or step on the prolapsed.  A large clean sheet/sac or tarpaulin to lay it on can help keep it clean and will definitely help the vet.  A couple of strong people and plenty of clean warm body temp water are also useful. In extreme cases a tractor can be useful to manoeuvre the animal.

Vaginal prolapse

A (comparatively to animal) small pink fleshy protruberance from the vulva usually before calving or lambing and thought to be due to increased abdominal pressure.  This can often be gently replaced and sutured in place by a vet.  Some farmers use  a special harness to keep the prolapse in.  The sutures or harness must be removed at birthing to allow the birth to progress without tearing the animal.  It is usually a management disease and is best avoided by keeping the animals in the correct body condition score, culling repeat offenders and not keeping their offspring for breeding.


Homepage  •   Companion Animal   •   Equine   •   Farm Animal   •   Privacy Policy   •   Contact

©2021 North Park Veterinary Group

Website by: