The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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If you don’t have that much experience with sheep, you might find yourself in strange situations every day. Sometimes, it’s quite easy to figure out where the problem is, while it may not be so straightforward other times.
“Why is my sheep coughing?” is one question that almost every farm owner asks themselves at least once in their lives. In this article, we’ll discuss a few common reasons why sheep will start coughing all of a sudden.
Let’s dive in!
If a lamb keeps coughing incessantly several times a day, it’s a sign that no one should ignore. Usually, uninterrupted coughs are symptoms of a respiratory issue in sheep. We’ll discuss those conditions in-depth in this section.
The symptoms of pneumonia and pleurisy aren’t very noticeable in sheep, so it can take you a while to suspect that they’re the reason behind the coughing. Even the coughs don’t usually start, in this case, until the sheep run or do some sort of physical exercise.
Pneumonia is an infection that occurs inside the lungs, and, if it goes untreated, it may soon lead to pleurisy. But how does pneumonia find its way to sheep?
Well, you should know that the main culprits behind those lung conditions are bacteria, viruses, and weather conditions. For example, if you yard your sheep somewhere hot and dusty, they’ll inhale plenty of dirt to their lungs.
Soon enough, this dust will irritate the linings of airways and drive any bacteria that reside there to grow in membranes, which leads to infections.
The same goes for viruses. These are quick to spread in an enclosed space with a lot of shedding and shared breath. It’ll start with a mild infection, but it’ll give more chances for a secondary bacterial infection to take place.
This is a more common cause for consistent coughing in sheep.
Lungworms, still in the form of larvae, can be ingested from pasture while the lamb is grazing. Then, the larvae will pass from the gut to the bloodstream until they find their way to the lungs where they reach adulthood.
The adult worms like to reside in the bronchi and bronchioles, which will lead to moderate to severe incessant coughing. If this condition goes unnoticed, the coughing will expel these worms into the pasture where they can be ingested again. Yuck.
Lungworm infections, especially the heavy ones, may cause moderate to severe coughing. If they go without treatment, they could ultimately cause respiratory distress.
More often than not, the answer can be as simple as barn cough, which people often notice in growing lambs. Here, coughing is usually a result of a dusty environment, heat stress, a crowded barn, or even damp weather.
Usually, lambs will outgrow barn cough, but you should still keep an eye on how they’re doing. If the coughs become more and more severe, they could eventually lead to rectal prolapse.
For first-timers, it may be a bit challenging to identify the cause of coughing in a lamb. For that reason, we’ll share with you a list of other symptoms that could help you recognize pneumonia, lungworm infections, and barn cough.
The acute type of pneumonia is easier to notice than the chronic one, showing the following signs:
- Depression and the tendency for solitude
- Nasal discharge
- Breathing difficulties
- Respiratory noise
On the other hand, chronic pneumonia symptoms will require a sharp eye because they’re more subtle. Still, you should keep in mind that, while acute pneumonia can affect sheep of all ages, the chronic counterpart is more common in lambs and hoggets.
Much like chronic pneumonia, lungworm infections can be hard to identify. See, the coughs won’t even start unless it’s a heavy infestation, and it’s usually accompanied by these symptoms.
- Weight loss
- Hanging the head forward
- Low milk yields in dairy sheep
Barn cough is just that: only coughing as a result of bad ventilation, dust, and crowded space. If you don’t notice any of the previous symptoms that may be indicative of infections or pneumonia, then it’s likely just barn cough.
You should also know that barn cough usually happens during specific times of the day. Some sheep start coughing while eating, which is a sign of dusty feed. Other lambs will cough after being active, and that’s probably because the barn has so much gathered dust.
Also read: Can Pigs and Sheep Live Together?
To ensure that your sheep don’t end up with an annoying coughing fit, you must follow a few simple guidelines. These tips should help you ward off pneumonia, keep lungworms at bay, and minimize the chances of developing barn cough.
- Try to reduce exposure to dust or dirt as much as possible
- Avoid yarding and movement during the hot times of the day
- Keep yarding and shedding events to the minimum
- Make sure the barn isn’t too crowded not to cause heat stress
- Aerate the barn, especially in winter, to drive stale and humid air away
- Separate your sheep on the grazing ground
- Vaccinate your sheep
- Do monthly worm checks and tests to stop potential infestations
- Spray the barn lightly with water to prevent dust from reaching your sheep
- Make sure that the feed isn’t dusty as well
- Provide the sheep with more space to battle heat stress
The first thing you need to do is to contact the vet to get an accurate diagnosis of your sheep’s condition. Once you do, you can begin treatment accordingly.
In the case of pneumonia, the vet will likely prescribe a few antibiotics to give to your sheep.
Lungworms are treated, if the cough persists, with benzimidazoles. You can also get rid of these nasty parasites via vaccination.
As for barn cough, it should go away on its own, especially if you control the triggering symptoms. If it doesn’t, you might need to offer your sheep antibiotics, too, based on the vet’s specific recommendations.
“Why is my sheep coughing?”
This question can make people go around in circles, but the answer is either barn cough, pneumonia, or a lungworm infection.
Hopefully, after reading our guide, it should be more simple to recognize any troublesome symptoms. Plus, now that you’re aware of the rest of the signs of these three conditions, you’ll have a better idea of what to do if you suspect something is wrong.
To keep your sheep from coughing in the future, you’ll have to minimize heat stress and exposure to dust. Not to mention that you’ll have to ensure that the barn isn’t overcrowded with sheep.
Soon enough, you should have everything under control once again!