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Utilize concentrates to prevent toxemia

Jordan Anderson Updated: 12/12/2013 @ 3:30pm Digital Content Editor for Successful Farming magazine and Agriculture.com

Pregnancy toxemia is a metabolic disease in goats and sheep that occurs during the last 6 weeks of pregnancy when the fetuses complete about 80% of their growth. This disease is most prevalent in does or ewes carrying two or more fetuses and are extremely thin or fat. The quickly growing fetuses demand a lot more nutrition from the dam and take up much more space in the abdomen, subsequently leaving less room for the rumen. 

The primary cause of toxemia is low blood sugar (glucose). If she does not eat enough high quality, high-energy concentrated feed, she will begin mobilizing fat reserves. When that happens, ketones created in the process build up to toxic levels, says Dr. David Fernandez, Cooperative Extension Program livestock specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. 

According to Colorado State University, “late-pregnant ewes/goats require about 50 percent more feed if bearing a single lamb and about 75 percent if carrying twins.” Since the fetuses take space from the rumen, the amount of feed necessary may exceed the sheep’s digestive capacity. This is where concentrates can help.


When these ketones reach levels to cause toxemia, the dam will become lethargic, be off feed, self-isolate herself from the flock, and will eventually go down. 

“Once she goes down, her likelihood of recovering drops to nearly zero,” warns Dr. Fernandez. 

Any animals in late-pregnancy that are suspected of showing symptoms can be tested by checking for ketones in the urine by using commercial test strips or pills.

It is key to spot these symptoms early because death occurs in 2 to 10 days in approximately 80% of cases. Other symptoms to have in mind are teeth grinding, mucous discharge from the nose, and abnormally small fecal pellets.


Treatment options other than feeding high-energy concentrates include corn syrup as a quick source of energy along with 3 to 4 liters of electrolyte solutions to help with dehydration.

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