Prevent pregnancy toxemia in sheep and goats with nutritional management

Carol Sanders| UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences

GoatsFBPINE BLUFF, Ark. – Although kidding and lambing season does not usually occur until spring, winter is the time to prevent pregnancy toxemia in your herd or flock, says Dr. David Fernandez, Cooperative Extension Program livestock specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Pregnancy toxemia, or ketosis, is a metabolic disorder caused by increasing demands on the bodies of does or ewes during late pregnancy, he says. At this time the fetuses will complete nearly 80 percent of their growth, and the female’s nutritional needs double. But, the space in her rumen is reduced because of the room taken up by the growing fetuses. If does or ewes cannot consume enough high quality feed, they will begin to mobilize their body fat reserves.

To generate energy from fat stores, females still need a certain amount of blood sugar. If they cannot get enough energy from feed, ketones created during fat metabolism build up to toxic levels. A common example of a ketone is the acetone in nail polish remover.

“Imagine having nail polish remover in your blood,” says Dr. Fernandez. “Does or ewes stop eating which makes matters worse. They become lethargic, have difficulty walking, grind their teeth and eventually go down. Their breath will smell sweetish or foul because of the ketones in their blood. Finally, they go into a coma and die. Once the female is down, the likelihood of recovering drops dramatically.”

If a doe or ewe becomes affected, early treatment while she can still stand is critical. Dr. Fernandez suggests providing a high energy feed to increase the amount of glucose in her blood and giving 60 to 90 milliliters of propylene glycol two to three times daily until she recovers or gives birth. In a pinch, producers can make a syrup of table sugar or use molasses. The pregnancy may have to be aborted or the veterinarian can do an emergency Caesarian section. The female almost always gets right up and is back to normal once the fetuses are removed.

Prevention is the best way to handle pregnancy toxemia, says Dr. Fernandez. Animals most likely to suffer from toxemia are fat and carrying twins or triplets. Usually, older females are more susceptible than younger ones. Very thin females are also at risk, but because they have less fat to mobilize, they are less likely to suffer from toxemia. Just make sure your does and ewes are in good condition (, but not over conditioned.

Proper feeding of your flock or herd will save money now and go a long way toward avoiding pregnancy toxemia next spring. For more information on this or other livestock issues, contact Dr. Fernandez at or (870) 575-7214.

The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Program offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.


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