Young Lambs: Joint ill

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Joint Ill is a bacterial infection seen in young lambs. The most common bacteria involved is Streptococcus dysgalactiae, that typically infects the lamb in the first few days of life. Signs of lameness usually start to show between 5 and 10 days after birth with the severity depending on the number of joints involved. Approximately 50% of cases involve one joint with the other half showing problems in 2 or more joints.

It’s important to recognise that the problem is caused by bacteria spreading through the body via the bloodstream and localising in the joints. Direct infection of a joint, for example by a dog bite, can occur but these cases will be occasional and sporadic. Joint Ill can be a problem affecting lambs across the flock and therefore cause considerable economic impact. In such situations preventative strategies should be developed if it is becoming a problem.

Lameness is the first sign seen and examination reveals the affected joints are hot and painful to touch. In a short period of time muscle wastage of the affected leg or legs can be noted and affected lambs will grow slower than littermates and usually in a poorer body condition.

Treatment usually involves a course on antibiotics. Veterinary advise should be sought to select a suitable antibiotic, and culture considered to ensure the most appropriate drug is used. Even after the infection is controlled the joint can remained damaged leading to ongoing lameness and poor growth. Some cases won’t resolve and will need euthanasia.

As treatment can be unsuccessful, and losses will occur despite treatment, then prevention measures should be a priority in flocks experiencing problems. Prevention should focus on two key areas; good hygiene and suitable navel care.

Bacteria can easily build up in the environment, especially in lambing sheds as the season progresses. Simple but thorough management practices can help prevent levels of contamination becoming too high and overwhelming the lamb’s defences. Regular disinfection with a good farm disinfectant, such as Viraktek P from Nettex is essential. Bedding should also be changed between each lambing and afterbirths removed and disposed of hygienically.

The moist remnants of the umbilical cord at the navel is a key entry point for bacteria. It leads directly through to the abdomen and the liver and so provides an easy route into the body and the blood stream. The navel of every lamb should be dipped or sprayed with an anti-bacterial product that also dries the tissue. 10% Iodine from Nettex is ideal and should be applied immediately after birth then repeated 2 or 3 hours later.

As with other infectious diseases, ensuring the lamb receives sufficient good quality maternal colostrum soon after birth will help fight any bacterial challenge

Some flocks might use “prophylactic” antibiotics if Joint Ill is a major problem. This should not be seen as best practice at a time when there is an urgent need to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use on farm. After consultation with a vet all other methods described above should be considered to help avoid antibiotic dosing.

Although lambing time is busy, good hygiene and navel protocols will help production and profitability through helping control the losses due to Joint Ill as well as other infectious problems.