Updated: Mar 29, 2022
Urolithiasis is a common health emergency in small ruminants. This occurs when uroliths, or urinary stones, cause a blockage in the urinary tract. These blockages occur almost exclusively in males, especially castrated males. The first signs of this condition are usually lethargy and loss of appetite combined with straining. Complete blockages can be very painful and often cause animals to bleat or moan constantly. If left untreated, the bladder may rupture. It is difficult to save animals once this occurs, thus early treatment leads to the best and most humane outcome.
Medical treatment includes a urinary acidifier to dissolve the stones and crystals, anti-inflammatory medication for pain and to reduce swelling in the urinary tract, a mild sedative to relax the penis, dietary modification, and antibiotics if there is an indication of urinary tract infection. If blockage is complete, minor field surgery under sedation unblocks a significant number of cases. Medical treatment is still necessary follow up, as there are likely more stones in the bladder waiting to cause another blockage. Certain types of stones do not dissolve and therefore are unlikely to respond to medical management. When field surgery and medical management are unsuccessful, more significant surgery can be considered as an option. Outcomes are generally best when these surgeries are performed in a hospital setting.
Prevention is the best way to manage most diseases, and urolithiasis is no exception. Avoid overfeeding your animals. Not only is excessive grain intake a predisposing factor for the development of stones, obesity makes blockages more likely as the urinary tract becomes compressed. Make sure that water and mineral are always available free-choice. Alfalfa, beet pulp, and baking soda can all promote stone formation. With at-risk animals, there are feeds available that include a urinary acidifier.
It is important for owners of sheep and goats to be aware of this potentially life-threatening health condition. If you suspect your animal is showing signs of urinary blockage, contact your veterinarian immediately.