Monday, May 11, 2009

Sheep Bloat: Cause, Symptom, Cure

Our usual winter sheep feed is a round bale of hay, supplemented with feed mix prepared by a local mill and purchased in 500 lb minimums. We ran out of the mix, so I grabbed a bag of cracked corn from Farm-n-Fleet to tide us over until I could get back to the mill. We were feeding the sheep about 2 large coffee containers full of cracked corn with a bunch of dry hay once daily. At the end of the bag of corn, we poured out the remainder for the sheep to eat up, about twice to three times the usual amount. Bad move. Apparently, sheep are extremely sensitive to any changes in their diet. The next day, a Sunday, I noticed one ewe standing away from the group, totally uninterested in eating. Her shoulders were sort of hunched up, and her head kept drooping down, her ears were droopy, her eyes glassy and she kept slowly closing then snapping them open when she brought her head up. She still ran from me when I tried to catch her, but had very little energy and once caught, was very docile and didn't really struggle to get away. Closer inspection revealed a rock hard and bloated tummy, that sounded hollow when tapped, and when moved, you could hear water gurgling around inside.

I researched the web and the text book the FFA teacher at school loaned me and learned that she probably had "bloat." She had "feed bloat" caused by excess fermentation of grain intake. The other kind is "frothy bloat" caused when sheep are released onto full green pasture, covered with dew sometimes, and they gorge themselves on green material after winter of dry hay. Both are very dangerous for the animal and can be fatal. It was Sunday, and I didnt have any large animal vet contacts, so we gave the treatments found on the web, (below) and hoped for the best.
The next day, Monday morning, I checked in before work, and the ewe was now down, with her head up, but wouldnt get up at all. At work I was finally able to get in touch with a large animal vet, his opinion was dire. He confirmed that it was probably bloat, and had same advise for treatment that I'd found on the internet (below.) He was very kind, but predicted she would probably be dead by the time I got home from work. His only suggestion was to continue to treat and wish for the best. I raced home during my lunch and ran up to the sheep barn still in my "teacher clothes" to check on my sick ewe. She was up and active, her tummy flatter and much more pliable, and she was eating hay! I gave the whole group a quick dose of the dry baking soda per the vets advise, and Hilda (the sick ewe) one more big drink of the soda water mix.

Treatment for sheep bloat can run to the extreme, in dire cases they suggest puncturing the side of the sheep to quickly release excess gas to prevent death from collapsed lung. Thank god we spotted our bloated sheep in time, and were able to cure the bloat by:

  1. 1. Removing all grain feed, replacing with only dry hay

  2. Feeding the bloated sheep mix of baking soda, water and mineral oil- about ½ cup soda, ¾ cup warm water to dissolve soda, plus a couple tbsp mineral oil. I didnt have any large syringes to administer the mix, so I used an old plastic Dasani water bottle.
  3. Manually massaging, (gently) the bloated tummy to help force out gas
  4. Encouraging the ewe to walk to help eliminate gas
  5. Feeding other sheep dry baking soda in a pan, they help themselves to a few bites, to prevent bloat in rest of flock

The one good outcome from this scary situation, Hilda the sick ewe, is now much more tame due to all the handling. She is actually eating out of my hand.


  1. Anonymous12:06 AM

    Thanks for this info!! probably just saved my ram's life. I caught the signs of blost early (20 mins ago) but all I'd ever heard to treat was tubing. I couldn't tube and it wasn't that severe yet so I researched online and found this post. gave him the mixture and he belched and regurgitated. He looks almost normal again.

  2. Anonymous9:06 PM

    I have been bottle feeding two orphaned ram lambs. They are six-weeks old. Last week on a Wednesday evening, I noticed one of them's stomach was distended about twice the normal size, and it was hard as a rock. I hurried in the house and began to look up cures and home remedies for sheep bloat, as I had no retail remedies for bloat. I found your website and mixed up the baking soda (1/2) cup in 3/4 cup water with two tablespoons mineral oil. Within hours he was bouncing back to normal. Then today, a week later, I came home from work to find he was bloated again. I mixed up the soda mixture and got some of it down him. He is still bloated and gurgling inside his stomach. I have no idea what bloated him today. I have loose minerals for them to free choice feed, I have grain feed for sheep for them and dry hay. They were not out on the grass today. Do you have any advice for me. I'm new at shepherding and have a lot to learn, am attached to the little guys and do not want to lose them.

    1. hopeless animal lovers9:45 PM

      hope all goes well we are new and have two bottle feds we think are ramgot no colotrum so we battle joint ill got through it and today he got severly bloated we inserted a small needle to release gas in rumen he is still alive tonight thought we were loosing him earlier are first sheep ever are girls are so attached both are in the house tonight.

    2. Anonymous1:31 AM

      Have bloated lambs and am very very sad as this happens lots at our house on the farm. Have tried oil and it works but not all the time and would really love to try the baking soda mix as lamb is bloated today.. Not looking god...I LOVE YOU JIM!!!

    3. Anonymous5:25 AM

      Just was reading on another site vet. Recomemding to stop bottle feeding at thirty days d/t some imperfections in premade milk which could cause problems not an expert at all just learning too my lambs raided my chicken feed so I was concerned about bloat everything I've read stop grains legumeous grass fill up on hay before out to green pasture

  3. Oh, I really hope things are better with your boys! Please let me first say that I am NOT a professional and the info I shared was all from looking at a book on livestock and websites. The only thing I can think of that may be causing your boy to bloat up is the grain...he may be sensitive? One of the sites or books told me to remove all grain feed and only feed dry hay for awhile. They also suggested just keeping a pan of soda available for them to eat from as they need it, that they would instinctively want to eat the soda if they are bloating. Walking them while massaging stomach rather firmly to encourage air removal helped my girl also. It's been a few days since your post, from what I read the situation can be very serious. I hope he is ok, please let me know!

  4. Anonymous9:51 AM

    Thanks to this info, and the advice from everyone else I called..., my lamb Sonni is much better it would seem this morning. I didn't have a tube, didn't know what to do with it if I HAD it, so baking soda rocks needless to say!

  5. Anonymous6:41 PM

    How much would u give a one week -2 day old lamb? How long should it take to see resuts? I am nursing 2 lambs and do not now much about sheep. We r very attached and want nothing more than to help him...on a minimum buget rescue deal. lokking for any help!

  6. Anonymous6:30 PM

    A 1 week old lamb shouldn't be bloated maybe try making the hole in the teat smaller when you feed it, and don't give it hay or grain or anything else at that age. Just a small amount of milk 4 times a day. Everyone makes the mistake of over feeding lambs when they do better on little and often. The best to try with a lamb that small is to tube it and see if any gas comes out but if he doesn't look uncomfortable may go down itself.

  7. Anonymous12:02 PM

    Thanks for the info hope I have got my baby lamb in time she is one of my favorite's thanks again

  8. Anonymous4:49 PM

    my ewe lamb is 3 months old and today we moved her to a new field, because I wasn't thinking, she was in there for about three hours and she bloated ive been giving her the mixture in sirynges, earlier when I first moved her back into the stall I gave her about 1/4 - 1/3 cups of it a litte at a time while massaging her, ran down to tractor supply for a few things and came back and she was still bloated so I gave her about 25 ml of the stuff a little at a time, im not sure if I should continue with the mixture. im afraid ill give her too much.

  9. Anonymous10:31 AM

    my whole flock looks like they have mild bloat. What if your not sure? Will it hurt them to give it to them this concoction as a precautionary measure?

  10. Anonymous10:32 AM

    my whole flock looks like they have mild bloat. What if your not sure? Will it hurt them to give them this concoction as a precautionary measure?

  11. Hi, I may have the same problem with one of our ewe. I plan to give her the mix that you wrote, however, I do not have mineral oil at hand. Would it be ok vegetable oil like olive oil. Sorry it might be a dumb question!

  12. Hi Pinar, I googled your question and if you have vegetable oil that may be better option. found that info here....hope it works!!