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Coccidiosis in lambs – an update

About Coccidiosis in lambs – an update

An increasing incidence of coccidiosis in recent years in the UK is thought to be related to the intensification of farming.

It is important for sheep farmers to prevent or treat coccidial infection in lambs promptly, as clinically infected lambs frequently show continued lower than average live weight gains even after the infection has cleared.

Subclinical infections also can affect production, even in older lambs.

A recent report estimated the cost of coccidial infection to be £4.40 per infected lamb, requiring additional feed and three more weeks for finishing.

Key Points

• Coccidiosis caused by a single celled parasite, Eimeria, is most often seen in young lambs from 4-8 weeks of age that have been exposed to a high level of oocyst challenge

• Clinical signs include weight loss; profuse diarrhoea containing mucus and often flecks of blood; staining of the perineum and tail; straining; abdominal pain; a tucked-up stance; dehydration and death if left untreated

• High levels of infection most often occur in intensive husbandry systems where there are high stocking densities and/or lambs under stress
– Can be a problem for lambs born and reared indoors as well as grass reared lambs

• Coccidia (Eimeria) are highly host specific so infection can only originate from other lambs and sheep

• Prevention of infection is dependent on good hygiene and husbandry so keep pens and feeding troughs clean and dry

• An adequate intake of colostrum will assist the lamb in coping with coccidial and other infections

• If possible avoid grazing mixed age groups of lambs on the same pasture and on fields which have carried ewes and lambs within the previous 2-3 weeks

• Diagnosis of coccidiosis should be based on farm history, clinical signs, faecal  analysis and, where animals have died, from a post-mortem examination of the gut

• As many species of coccidia do not cause disease, total oocyst counts may not always provide a good indicator of the cause of scouring – ask for the oocysts to be  identified (speciated)

• Since a range of pathogens can cause scouring in young lambs, e.g. Nematodirus, it is vital to obtain a diagnosis from your vet

• Oral and “in feed” treatments are available for the control and prevention of coccidiosis

• Oral anticoccidial treatment should be administered as soon as a positive diagnosis has been confirmed

• Lambs with severe scouring due to coccidiosis may also require supportive rehydration therapy

Our Experts

Dave Bartley


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