Common Diseases in Dairy Goats and Sheep

In order to best care for and protect your farm animals you will need to have an understanding of what to watch out for. Today, our farm vets in Columbia share some of the commonly seen diseases in dairy goats and sheep, the symptoms that accompany them and what can be done to treat your animal.

Goats and sheep are common farm animals that are classified as small ruminants, which are herbivores that have special four-chambered stomachs that have the purpose of helping the animals digest all of the vegetation that they consume on a daily basis. While there are a number of diseases that can affect these animals, some common ones can cause issues with reproduction, cause serious infections, respiratory diseases and more. 

Common Goat and Sheep Diseases Seen By Farm Vets

Bacterial Pneumonia

The bacteria Pasteurella multocida or Mannheimia haemolytica (previously Pasteurella haemolytica) are often found in the upper respiratory tract of healthy goats and sheep. These bacteria are the leading cause of respiratory infections and death in both goats and sheep on farms.

Symptoms of bacterial pneumonia may include:

  • fever (104º F/40º C to 106º F/41º C)
  • moist, painful cough and difficulty breathing
  • mucopurulent (mucus and pus) discharge from the nose and eyes
  • crackling sounds when the animal's chest is listened to with a stethoscope 
  • loss of appetite
  • lethargy or tiredness

Your livestock vet in Columbia will base your animal's diagnosis on their clinical signs and your herd's history. If the animal succumbs to the disease, an autopsy could reveal the cause of pneumonia. Treatment consists of vet-prescribed antibiotics, and instructions to keep any infected animals in a dry, well-ventilated area away from the healthy herd members. Some of the common methods for preventing bacterial pneumonia include vaccinations and herd management.

Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE)

This disease is caused by the virus of the small ruminant lentivirus (SRLV) of the Retroviridae family. While this disease primarily targets dairy goats, it has also been known to affect meat goats and sheep.

CAE is usually transmitted through the consumption of the colostrum of infected milk from ill does/ewes. Other methods CAE include contamination from the blood of open wounds or infected instruments (e.g. needles, dehorners), and, rarely, between lactating adult goats. 

Unfortunately, CAE has no known cure and will progress quite slowly. Signs can take months or years to show and include conditions like chronic joint inflammation, mastitis, and interstitial pneumonia. In young goats (kids) between 2 - 6 months old, paralysis due to encephalitis and myelitis is more common.

In order to diagnose CAE, vets will take the herd health history and run a number of laboratory tests, such as ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay).

Although there is no cure for CAE, your veterinarian might offer supportive therapy options. If your goat or sheep does recover from this condition they will continue to carry the disease for the remainder of their life. This leaves the potential for other farm animals in your herd to become infected.

Prevention and control are the most effective ways to stop the spread of the virus. Some preventive and herd management steps one could take include:

  • Removing / culling infected animals from your herd
  • Only purchase your goats and sheep from reputable sources
  • Have new and existing stock tested for CAE before integrating them into the herd


Abortions in sheep and goats can be caused by a number of things, including infectious diseases, toxic substances, and abnormalities affecting fetus development. Some common diseases caused by microorganisms include chlamydiosis, listeriosis, toxoplasmosis, neosporosi, and several others. These can cause abortion in goats and sheep and are zoonotic, which means they can pass from animals to humans and infect them. When attending a lambing or kidding or handling aborted lamb or sheep fetuses, it is important to use protective clothing, latex gloves or plastic arm sleeves.

The diagnosis of abortion in sheep and goats is based on clinical signs and herd history. Your livestock veterinarian will likely run diagnostics to help identify the infectious agent.

The treatment for abortion will depend on the underlying cause of the condition. For prevention of the spread of disease and conditions that cause abortions in your dairy herd/flock, try some of the following tips:

  • Immediately contact your vet for help carrying out an investigation
  • Use protective clothing and latex gloves or plastic sleeves to stop infection. Incinerate the sleeves or gloves afterward to prevent contamination.
  • Isolate the animal from the healthy members of the herd, quarantining it until further veterinary investigation.
  • Keep the placenta and fetus on ice or refrigerated (do not freeze), as your vet may need samples to examine and send to a diagnostic lab. 

Pregnancy Toxemia (Ketosis)

This metabolic disorder is most commonly seen in older, overweight does/ewes with multiple fetuses, 1 - 3 weeks before kidding/lambing. Ketosis is linked to prepartum mortality.

If there is insufficient nutritional energy during the later stages of the animal's pregnancy, the doe/ewe's body uses fatty tissue as a source of energy and milk production. In most cases, the body's use of fatty tissue isn't harmful, but overuse produces an excess of ketones (toxic byproducts) into the bloodstream, potentially damaging the liver and kidneys.

Symptoms of pregnancy toxemia include:

  • Little or no appetite
  • Low energy or lethargy
  • Clumsiness or imbalance (many animals lay down and can't rise again)
  • Teeth grinding
  • Blindness
  • Coma

Herd history and symptoms will be used for diagnosis, and ketone levels can be tracked to determine a more accurate prognosis for the animal. 

Your farm animal vet in Columbia may treat the condition with propylene glycol, or another energy supplement if the disease is caught early on. 

To lessen the likelihood of ketosis in your pregnant animals, it's important to ensure they are eating well, especially at the later stages of pregnancy. It's also important to help them avoid stress or sudden changes in diet.

Caseous Lymphadenitis (CL)

Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis bacteria can be found throughout the world. Goats and sheep can develop Caseous Lymphadenitis (CL) after coming into contact with pus from an ill animal, or by ingesting contaminated food or water.

The main symptom of CL is the development of internal and external abscesses containing thick, yellow-green pus with a foul odor. CL is another disease affecting goats and sheep with no cure. This disease can be diagnosed using diagnostic tests and a physical examination by your farm vet.

Prevention is the best method to stop the spread of CL. Steps include:

  • Having the abscesses carefully drained to avoid ruptures and infection of healthy animals
  • Culling infected animals from the herd
  • Check CL history of farms and avoid purchasing animals with visible abscesses or abscess scars
  • Male animals should be carefully examined, as an infected male can spread CL to the females
  • Use clean needles for each animal, and thoroughly disinfect equipment (e.g. ear taggers, wool shears)
  • Consider a closed herd


Coccidiosis is a parasite that is host-specific (different animals are infected by different species of Coccidia). While grazing, or by ingesting contaminated water, goats and sheep can ingest oocytes (developing eggs). When the oocytes enter the animal's body, they invade the cells of the intestinal lining, causing inflammation. Stressed kids/lambs who are weaned are predisposed to the condition, and outbreaks can erupt during stressful events (e.g. farm relocation). 

Signs of coccidiosis infection can include:

  • Watery diarrhea (may contain mucus or blood)
  • Constipation
  • No appetite (along with fever)
  • Dehydration
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss, emaciation
  • Hemorrhaging or ulcerations of the intestinal wall
  • Sudden death 

Your farm animal vet can diagnose the condition based on the health history of your herd, symptoms, and fecal examinations. Options for treatment include administering a vet-prescribed coccidiostat, whether via drenching or adding to the drinking water. If the animal is severely dehydrated, intravenous (IV) fluid therapy may be necessary until the animal is rehydrated.

Prevention and control can include:

  • Improving hygiene in facilities, pens, feeding areas and water sources, and pastures
  • Minimize kids' / lambs' stress during weaning
  • Avoid keeping animals in damp environments without direct sunlight
  • Be prepared for potential outbreaks post-weaning or during severe weather 

Contagious Ecthyma (Orf/Sore Mouth)

Orf is a zoonotic disease (transmissible from animal to human) that affects goats and sheep via direct contact with the parapoxvirus. It usually takes 2-5 days after exposure for infected animals to start showing signs of the disease, which lasts 1-2 weeks. Sore mouth tends to break out in sheep and goats after stressful events like weaning, relocation, or being transported. 

The main symptom of orf is blisters that become wet scabs on the face (lips, nose, ears, eyelids) and is transmissible from nursing kids/lambs to the doe/ewe. The nursing female can develop extremely painful lesions on the teats and udder, which can even prevent them from eating. 

Diagnosis is based on physical symptoms, including where the lesions are located on the body, but a more conclusive diagnosis can be reached from virus isolation and an immunologic test.

Luckily, sore mouth usually resolves without intervention but in more severe cases your farm animal vet might prescribe antibiotics to fight secondary bacterial infections.

Prevention and management can include:

  • Avoid stress during transportation
  • Quarantine new animals for 6 weeks before integrating them into the herd
  • Separate sick animals for observation and treatment
  • Wear gloves when handling sick animals
  • Do not consume milk from does/ewes with lesions on the teats/udder
  • If recommended by your vet, have your animal vaccinated 

Other Common Diseases Affecting Goats & Sheep

  • Enterotoxemia (Overeating Disease)
  • Foot Rot and Foot Scald
  • Keratoconjunctivitis (Pinkeye)
  • Listeriosis (Circling Disease)
  • Mycoplasmosis
  • Polioencephalomalacia (Deficiency of Thiamine/Vitamin B1)

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If you have a goat or sheep that is showing signs of illness, please contact our Columbia vets today to schedule an examination.