Pregnant sheep lying down

3 Signs of Dead Lamb in Ewe (Early Signs to Know!)

Spread the love

The five months of your sheep’s pregnancy can be terrifying, especially since the risk of losing the lamb and the mother are pretty real, causing you to lose a valuable investment. Therefore, it’s important to monitor your pregnant ewes to catch any problems, including signs of dead lamb in ewe.

The signs of dead lamb in ewe include discharge of brownish-reddish blood mixed with mucous, horrible smell in the barn, loss of appetite, salivation without mastitis and behavioral changes like depression and isolation.

Catching early signs of  dead lamb in ewe will help save the ewe’s life. Additionally, it will allow you to act swiftly before the lamb rots in utero, causing infections.

To handle this problem timelessly, you must equip yourself with the necessary knowledge on the prevention, detection, and treatment. So keep reading to help you take proper care of your pregnant ewes.

Is sheep lying down signs of dead lamb in the ewe

Understanding the Death of Lamb in Ewe

The death of lambs can be an isolated incident that shouldn’t worry you much. But if it keeps happening, it’s best to get to the root of the issue. Lamb deaths in ewe can be divided into 3 time periods.

  • Before birth- Abortion
  • During birth- Dystocia
  • Shortly after birth- Perinatal


Aborted lambs are typically undersized and die in the ewe’s womb before reaching full term. As a result, they might not be fully developed and could be rotten when born.

In addition, the lamb may have the meconium’s green/yellow discoloration that is often released in the event of fetal distress.


This is when lambs die during delivery, and such lambs may have swelling or bruising around the neck or head. Furthermore, their hooves will not show any wear signs because they haven’t walked yet.

You will likely find ‘snowshoes,’ the soft protective cap covering an unborn lamb’s hooves that protects the ewe’s insides from damage.

Moreover, they have dense lungs which sink when immersed in water. This is because they haven’t been filled with air yet, but they could be partially inflated if the lamb breathed a few times.


This term refers to lambs that die within a week of being born, and their hooves will show signs of walking. Additionally, their lungs will float in water because they are full of air, and you will find a milk clot in their stomach if the lambs are fed.

Lambs are usually kept warm by the brown fat they are born with, and low reserves of it signify the exhaustion of the store.

The lack of fat reserves or food leads to the perinatal death of lambs. Their death is often caused by a combination of mismothering, exposure, and starvation.

While understanding perinatal deaths is crucial since they commonly occur, this post focuses on the death of lambs inside the mother’s womb. First, however, it’s worth mentioning briefly.

READ ALSO: How Many Babies Do Sheep Have? (Per Year and Lifetime!)

What Are the Signs of Dead Lamb in Ewe?

As you already know, sheep depend on the caretaker for protection and health. That comprises watching your sheep attentively to notice something amiss early before the situation worsens.

So when it comes to the lamb’s death in the ewe, here are the signs to watch out for.

1. Discharge

If you find a brown or reddish mucus plug discharge around the sheep’s tail without any sight of a newborn lamb in the pasture fields, this is one of the signs of dead lamb in ewe. 

In addition, the discharge may have a terrible odor you will smell when near the ewe’s nesting place.

2. Loss of Appetite

A healthy pregnant ewe consumes more feed since the lamb gets nutrition from their mother, so your ewe will happily consume the feed you provide. The portion they consume will be more than they would normally do when not pregnant.

A pregnant ewe’s appetite will change if the lamb dies in utero, making the loss of appetite among the first signs of dead lamb in ewe. However, it could also be a sign of illness, so it’s best to examine the lamb for abortion signs.

According to experts, abortion in sheep is easily detected by a sudden feed intake restriction and occasionally weakness, especially when pregnant sheep’s energy intake should increase because of the growing fetus.

Besides low feed intake, the ewe’s urge to drink water will also dip if the ewe dies in the womb.

3. Behavioral Changes

Besides physical changes, the behavior of the lamb will also change if the lamb dies in the womb.

For instance, you will find the ewe alone, isolated from the rest of the herd, so suspect that the ewe is carrying a dead lamb if they stay alone when they typically keep the company of others.

The lamb will lie down a lot without participating in any activity during this period, and you will see signs of depression.

A depressed sheep portrays similar depression signs to humans, which include keeping off physical activities. In addition, they may begin salivating without showing mastitis signs.

4. Horrible smell in the barn

As a sheep farmer, I know the smell of my barn. I can tell when something is not right by the smell. One of the signs of dead lamb in ewe is smell. You’ll suddenly notice a horrible stench in the barn. I’ve had my ewe prolapse and the lambs were dead inside. When we pulled them out, the stench was terrible.

A sheep and newborn lamb

Effects of Ignoring or Missing Signs of Sheep Abortion

You risk the life of your sheep if you ignore or miss the signs of dead lamb in a ewe since the longer the fetus stays in, it will eventually rot, causing serious health complications.

In addition, infections resulting from untreated abortion can enter the pregnant ewe’s bloodstream, which could lead to death.

Therefore, it’s paramount for you to pay close attention to your pregnant ewes to ensure you notice any signs of pregnancy loss early.

Remember that dead lamb in ewe signs can be mild to severe, with smelly discharge indicating the worst scenario.

Causes of Death of Lamb in The Ewe

While diagnosing abortion in ewes isn’t easily recognized, you can watch out for the different toxins that cause it.

The main infectious agents that cause sheep abortion are Toxoplasma sp, Salmonella sp, Campylobacter sp, Listeria sp, Chlamydia sp, Cache Valley virus, border disease virus, and Brucella sp.

Most toxins that cause abortion in ewes also cause the same in cows, but some, such as kale and Veratrum californicum, are unique to ewes. Let’s discuss these toxins further.

1. Bluetongue

This is an arthropod-borne, infectious, non-contagious viral infection that primarily affects wild and domestic ruminants.

It causes abortion, congenital brain malfunction, stillbirth, and fetal mummification in lambs, and reports show that serotype 8 bluetongue causes congenital anomalies and abortions in sheep.

This disease is typically considered a disease for the improved sheep breeds, especially the mutton and fine-wool breeds.

However, it has also been seen in cattle and wild ruminants like the desert bighorn sheep in North America, white-tailed deer, European bison, captive yak in Europe, and pronghorn antelope.

The clinical signs of Bluetongue in sheep stem from vascular endothelial damage such as coronary bands, tongue, and muzzle edema.

It would be best if you considered this virus a potential issue until you fully diagnose what could be wrong with your ewe.

Bluetongue prevention and control measures feature lowering biting midges exposure and vaccination. Modified-live and inactivated vaccines are widely utilized, but their availability differs between countries.

Modified-live vaccines for Bluetongue are predominantly used in areas with a prolonged history of this infection, like Africa and the United States of America.

However, it should be administered to pregnant ewes or during the active periods of Culicoides spp because they will transfer the vaccine virus to animals that haven’t been vaccinated, including pregnant ones.

2. Brucellosis

Brucellosis causes late-term abortions, the birth of weak lambs, infertility, and stillbirths. While Brucella melitensis leads to clinical disease in some sheep breeds, it rarely occurs in the United States.

Still, it causes late-term (fourth month) abortion in the places it’s found and could also cause orchitis and arthritis.

On the other hand, Brucella ovis causes a disease-specific to sheep where the orchitis and epididymitis impair infertility. Occasionally, it can result in abortion, placentitis, and even perinatal mortality.

While Brucella ovis came to light first in Australia and New Zealand, it has since spread to other parts where sheep are reared. However, the infection remains rare in the United States of America. Consequently, Brucella abortus occasionally makes pregnant sheep have an abortion.

Sheep abortions caused by Brucella happen in the late stages of gestation. As a result, they cause placentitis with edema, thickened, leathery intercotyledonary parts, and necrosis of cotyledons.

Most fetuses aborted because of Brucella ovis are usually alive at the start of expulsion, but they can be autolyzed or mummified.

On the other hand, the fetuses are autolyzed in sheep abortions resulting from Brucella melitensis. Moreover, the infection is zoonotic, and some countries have a vaccine for it.

The diagnostic aspects of Brucellosis are vaginal discharge in dams, abomasal contents, and the placenta culture.

3. Border Disease

This disease originates from a pestivirus closely associated with classical swine flu (hog cholera) and bovine viral diarrhea (BVD).

It occurs worldwide and is a major cause of fetal and embryonic deaths, congenital abnormalies, and weak lambs.

Abortion caused by Border Disease can happen at any time during the pregnancy. Even so, the dam won’t show any signs apart from leukopenia and mild fever in some cases.

However, if a lamb is carried to term, it will have an abnormally hairy coat, congenital tremors, and typically be undersized.

This disease is diagnosed by identifying the virus in the tissues of the placenta or the fetus (such as abomasum, thyroid glands, spleen, lungs, and kidneys) through virus isolation, precolostral antibodies demonstration, or fluorescent antibody staining.

No vaccines are available for this disease, but inactivated BVD vaccines are sometimes used.

4. Cache Valley Virus

The mosquito-transmitted infection causes abortions, infertility, congenital abnormalities, and stillbirths in sheep. It’s vastly endemic in the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

The most notable effects are stillborn and live lambs with congenital abnormalities. These abnormalities affect musculoskeletal and CNS systems like torticollis, hydrocephalus, and scoliosis.

If the ewe is infected 31 days into the pregnancy, early embryonic death occurs. However, infection occurring 32 to 37 days into gestation leads to CNS and musculoskeletal lesions.

On the other hand, if infected 37 to 48 days into the pregnancy, it mainly causes musculoskeletal lesions.

The virus won’t be visible at birth or abortion time, so diagnosis will be done through body fluids or precolostral serum demonstration. Additionally, no vaccines are available.

5. Listeriosis

Abortion resulting from Listeria monocytogenes happens late into the ewe’s pregnancy. As a result, the ewe often portrays clinical signs like anorexia, depression, and fever, with some succumbing to septicemia.

The fetus is typically autolyzed, but mummification is also possible. It’s diagnosed through culture.

6. Toxoplasmosis

This disease causes mummification or resorption if contracted early into the pregnancy. If the ewe gets it late into the gestation period perinatal deaths or abortions occur.

Ewes become immune to it once infected. Still, you can lower the exposure of this disease to your sheep by preventing cat feces from mixing with sheep feed.

It’s a zoonosis and can be transmitted transplacentally.

7. Salmonellosis

Salmonella Abortusovis, S Arizona, S Typhimurium, and S Dublin have caused the death of lambs in the womb.

However, most ewes with Salmonellosis get febrile and sick before aborting. The uterine discharge, fetus, and placenta culture diagnose the disease.

8. Vibriosis (Campylobacter spp Infection)

C lari, C jejuni jejuni, and campylobacter fetus infections cause stillborns and late abortions.

It’s diagnosed through uterine discharge, placental smears, fetal liver, lungs, and abomasal contents isolation or fluorescent or darkfield antibody preparations.

The ewe can develop metritis after the fetus is expelled.

How Do You Get a Dead Lamb Out of An Ewe?

You will need to induce delivery as soon as possible to expel the dead fetus and avoid infections and even the ewe’s death.

Give the ewe time to try to give birth on her own before stepping in, but if it takes too long (about an hour), you will need to pull out the fetus yourself.

In such a case, put on a glove, use plenty of lubrication, and determine the lamb’s position.

If the fetus is already rotten, you will likely need a caesarian section (hire an experienced vet). In addition, consider getting ahead of the problem by ensuring your pregnant ewes are well-fed and vaccinated. This will help protect them from diseases that cause the death of lambs in the ewe.

Moreover, avoid causing unnecessary stress to pregnant ewes and give them glucose supplements. You should also introduce calcium supplements like calcium borogluconate to prevent hypocalcemia.

Final Remarks

Pregnant ewes require much of your attention because many things could go wrong that will call for immediate action to remedy the situation.

The death of a lamb in the ewe is quite unfortunate, but noticing signs of dead lamb in ewe early helps. It would be best if you also uncovered what caused the fetus to die to keep it from occurring in the future.


Can Sheep Live without a Shepherd? (Reasons They Need a Shepherd!)

Can Sheep Eat Goat Feed? (Is It Nutritious for Them?)

Polypay Sheep Breed: Information, Behavior, and Care

Why Is My Sheep Coughing? Causes and Treatment

Spread the love