Debbie Archer | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
Pregnancy toxemia is a common metabolic disease in goats and sheep during late pregnancy. Although the kidding and lambing season does not usually come until spring, winter is the time to prevent pregnancy toxemia in your herd or flock, Dr. David Fernandez, Extension livestock specialist and interim dean of Graduate Studies and Continuing Education for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, said.
So, what is pregnancy toxemia? Pregnancy toxemia, or ketosis, is a metabolic disorder caused by the increasing demands upon the body of the doe or ewe during late pregnancy, Dr. Fernandez said.
“During this time, the fetuses will complete nearly 80% of their growth, and the female’s nutritional needs double,” he said. “But the space in her rumen is reduced because of the room taken up by the growing fetuses. If she is unable to consume enough high-quality feed, she will start mobilizing her body fat reserves.”
To generate energy from her fat stores, the female still needs a certain amount of blood sugar. If she does not get enough energy from her feed, ketones created during fat metabolism build up to toxic levels, he said. A common example of a ketone is the acetone in nail polish remover.
“Imagine having nail polish remover in your blood,” Dr. Fernandez said. “The doe or ewe stops eating, which only makes matters worse. She will become lethargic, have difficulty walking, grind her teeth and eventually go down. Her breath will smell sweetish or foul because of the ketones in her blood. Finally, she will lapse into a coma and die. Once the female goes down, the likelihood she will recover drops dramatically.”
If one of your does or ewes becomes affected, early treatment while they are still able to stand is critical, he said. Provide a high energy feed to increase the amount of glucose in her blood. You can also give 60 to 90 milliliters of propylene glycol two to three times each day until she recovers or gives birth.
“In a pinch, you can make a syrup of table sugar, or use molasses or corn syrup,” Dr. Fernandez said. “You may have to abort the pregnancy or have your veterinarian conduct an emergency Caesarian section. The female almost always gets right up and is back to normal once the fetuses are removed. Once she goes into a coma, she is unlikely to recover.”
Prevention is the best way to handle pregnancy toxemia. Animals that are most likely to suffer from the condition are fat and carrying twins or triplets. Usually, the older females are more susceptible to pregnancy toxemia than the younger ones, he said. Very thin females are also at risk, but because they often have less fat to mobilize, they are less likely to suffer from the condition.
“You should make sure your does or ewes are in good condition, but not over conditioned,” Dr. Fernandez said. “Proper feeding of your flock or herd this winter will save you money now and go a long way toward avoiding pregnancy toxemia next spring.”
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