During show season, pink eye in sheep can be a common livestock issue. Small ruminants easily transmit pink eye from one animal to the next. This highly contagious bacteria is more common in spring and summer but can occur at any time of the year. Outbreaks of pink eye can show up after a new animal has been introduced to the flock. Goats and sheep eating from the trough spread the bacteria through direct contact.
Inflammation of the cornea and conjunctiva of the eye is the telltale sign of pink eye in sheep. Clinically, pink eye is called infectious keratoconjunctivitis. The bacteria that causes pink eye is one of two bacteria. Chlamydia psittaci (ovis) and Mycoplasma conjunctiva are the culprits behind most cases of pink eye in sheep. Chlamydia is also the cause of spontaneous abortions in small ruminants.
In addition to close contact with affected animals, stress can play a part in sheep contracting the bacteria. Moving animals, new surroundings, and extreme weather changes are some ways your small ruminants can experience stress.
It’s easy to find these stress factors during show season. Crowded barn conditions can lead to an outbreak of pink eye. Not only is the close contact of the animals a trigger, but the lack of good ventilation and increased dust help transfer the bacteria from one animal to the next. Flies are vectors and can carry the bacteria between animals. Fly control is important not only when talking about flystrike treatment, but with other infections, too.
What are the Symptoms of Pink Eye in Sheep?
The animal with pink eye will blink frequently. The eyes are more sensitive to any irritant and can be bothered by bright sunlight. You may see the sheep holding its eyes partially or all the way closed in bright light. Tearing and wet stain below the eye is often noted. The eye membranes are red and inflamed looking. An opaque appearance can take over the eye and temporary or permanent blindness can occur, in severe cases.
The Economic Impact of Pink Eye
Pink eye is rarely fatal. Loss of condition can occur if the animal’s blindness leads to it not finding enough food. Mostly, the infection is annoying to the animal and may lead to some weight loss. The economic impact occurs mainly from the cost of treating a large flock. Some farmers with large flocks of sheep will choose to use a one-time injection of Tetracycline or treat the water using LA 200 or Tylen. The use of these drugs in the water is an off-label use of the antibiotic. Consult your veterinarian for advice when administering drugs to your flock. Discuss with your veterinarian, what to feed sheep while they are being treated for pink eye.
With smaller flocks, treating pink eye is more feasible. Isolate any animal showing signs of illness or infection. The most common treatments are Vetericyn Ophthalmic Gel, which should be administered 2-3 times a day to the eyes; doesn’t include antibiotics or steroids; can be used as a preventative; and includes no withdraw time, or Terramycin ointment, which is administered to the eye each day. Begin by cleaning up the area surrounding the eye. Often the wool or fur beneath the eye will be wet or sticky from the irritation. This can attract flies. Keep the area clean by gently bathing the area with a good antiseptic spray. Vetericyn Pink Eye spray can be used for this. Your sheep are not going to appreciate being spritzed in the eye. Grab a gauze pad or clean rag and spray the liquid onto the rag. Then, clean the sheep or goat’s face. Vetericyn Pink Eye spray is safe for food-producing animals or animals for human consumption. It doesn’t include antibiotics and animals shouldn’t experience ocular irritation or a withdrawal period.
Can the Animals Recover Without Treatment?
Since the disease is considered self-limiting, many animals can recover without treatment. Some short-term resistance has been observed in animals that recover with no treatment. The immunity is not long lasting in sheep and goats. A New Zealand website noted that early treatment can hasten recovery and spread of pink eye. However, they also noted a higher incidence of reinfection with sheep that were treated versus those animals that went untreated. In any case, proper care is essential to the good health of your flock. Cleaning the eye area when it is wet or sticky, can prevent flystrike and other eye issues.
Can Other Livestock Get Pink Eye?
Cattle can also suffer a pink eye infection. The infection in cattle is caused by Moraxella bovis. This is a different bacteria than the two responsible for pink eye in sheep. A vaccine is available to prevent an outbreak of cattle pink eye. There is no vaccine available for use in sheep and other small ruminants. The cattle vaccine does not work in other species. Chickens can also have conjunctivitis, Mycoplasma is a common cause of chicken eye problems.
Prevention of Pink Eye
Cleanliness is an important factor in battling pink eye. Wear gloves when examining animals. This lessons the spread of disease. Keep the barn clean and keep dust under control. Fly control is also important in the fight against pink eye.
A closed flock is less likely to have an outbreak of pink eye. Isolate any new animals for at least thirty days. If you show your animals at fairs and competitions, isolate the animals when you return. Animals can be carriers and show no symptoms of pink eye.
Pink eye in sheep may not be the most serious disease shepherds have to deal with but it can be costly to treat. Following good health and herd management practices will lessen the chance of an outbreak in your flock.
Have you experienced pink eye in your sheep? What treatment did you use? Let us know in the comments below.