Pregnancy ketosis. Twin kid disease. Pregnancy toxemia is known by many names, and it is important for farmers to know what it is and how to recognize the signs of the disease in their ruminant livestock.

Pregnancy toxemia is a metabolic disease that occurs during the late pregnancy of a ewe, doe or cow when they are unable to maintain glucose concentration. There are two likely causes of the disease.

The first common cause is hepatic lipidosis, also known as fatty liver syndrome. In this instance the condition can often prove fatal.

The other frequent occurrence is when moderate to thin animals are pregnant with multiple fetuses. It is in the case of a smaller ruminant pregnant with multiple fetuses that farmers can hopefully intervene and save their animals.

Observing to prevent pregnancy toxemia

Dr. Robert Van Saun, an Extension veterinarian with Penn State, urges farmers to learn the signs of pregnancy toxemia to better protect their ruminants.

According to Dr. Robert Van Saun, Extension veterinarian for Penn State, “Between 60% and 70% of fetal growth comes in the final third of the gestation period. As a result, that’s when nutrients are largely redirected from the mother. Cows are much larger, and rarely have more than one calf, so they are not as likely to be as affected. But goats and sheep are smaller and more likely to have more than one kid or lamb, so you have more fetuses taking away nutrients from the mother. In addition to taking up more nutrients, they also take up more space, which can press on the mother’s stomach, preventing her from eating as much.”

Pregnancy toxemia can be exacerbated by a calcium deficiency as well as by external stressors such as severe weather, sudden feed changes, transportation and social changes.

“If caught early enough, care can be taken and feedings can be modified to keep the mother healthy throughout the pregnancy,” Van Saun said. Farmers should take care to learn the three stages of pregnancy toxemia.

  • Stage 1 – The doe or ewe is weak and separates herself from others, has a decreased appetite and may be reluctant to come up to eat. She might have trouble getting up, and could have edema in the legs due to low protein.
  • Stage 2 – The expectant mother will not be willing to eat unless coaxed, and cannot get up without help or support. She may show neurologic signs of head-pressing, blindness or stargazing.
  • Stage 3 – She cannot get up even with assistance, nor will she eat. The mother will likely have labored breathing, seem depressed and won’t respond to stimuli. At this stage, the fetuses are likely close to death or are perhaps dead already.

“Vigilance is key,” Van Saun concluded. “You want to catch it early, before it gets too serious.”

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by Enrico Villamaino