Sheep and Goats: Treating Urinary Blockages
One of the most common health emergencies in small ruminants is urolithiasis, or urinary stones, causing a blockage in the urinary tract. These blockages occur almost exclusively in males, especially castrated males. The urethra of females and intact males are usually larger, making blockages less likely. The most common clinical signs are lethargy and loss of appetite combined with straining. Owners often interpret this straining as constipation, but it is exceedingly rare for sheep or goats to become constipated. Animals often bleat or moan constantly with complete blockages, which are very painful. If left untreated, there is a small chance of the stone passing, but more likely the bladder will rupture. It is difficult to save animals once this occurs and early treatment leads to the best and most humane outcome.
Medical treatment includes a urinary acidifier to dissolve the stones and crystals, anti-inflammatories for pain and to reduce swelling in the urinary tract, 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. When field surgery is 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 is compressed by fat and other excessive tissue. Make sure that water and mineral are always available free-choice. Dehydration or gorging on mineral after being without can either lead to the development of stones. Avoid feeding rations excessively high in calcium, including large amounts of alfalfa hay. With at-risk animals, there are feeds available that include a urinary acidifier. However, there can be palatability issues with these feeds. Also, not all types of stones dissolve in response to acidifiers.
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.