Treating a Case of Sheep Mastitis, Part III

OR: ONCE MORE INTO THE BREACH

When Roger the shearer was here and had my ewe Lily tipped on her bottom, I snapped these quick shots of her mastitic udder. As I was leaning out precariously over the wall of the sheep stall and the light was low, the focus is poor. However they’ll give the general idea.

On the left you can see the healthy right side of her udder. On the right is the mastitic left. [Double-click to enlarge.]

Notice how shrunken the udder is on her left side? See how grossly enlarged is the teat? This is not how the udder looked three weeks ago, when Lily first lambed.

Originally the mastitic half of the udder was as large, or larger, than the healthy half, and tight as a drum. The teat was normal-sized but stiff and hard. It felt exactly like a valve stem on an over-inflated tire.

After ten days of udder massage, injections of the antibiotic LA-200, and daily teat infusions of TODAY mastitis medication, I had worked the cheesy pus out of the abscessed udder half. That side of her udder shrank away. My concern was that I never got to the bottom of the pus. It always re-filled, ever so slightly. Every morning I could massage out a bit more material. What to do? Though I had become even fonder of Lily in all this 1:1, I could not risk infecting the rest of my flock. Nor in my small set-up could I keep her separate much longer.

I had read on my cow board of “killing a teat” — introducing a caustic agent that would cause scarring to seal the teat forever — and I sent out a query to my sheep list. ( I have written about this.) In reply, the owner of a large flock, whose husband is a vet, outlined the procedure they followed. They infused the teat with the chemical chlorhexidine mixed 1:4 with sterile water, for three days, then every other day for another three.

From my research on the internet I have some doubts about the effectiveness of chlorhexidine for this purpose when used full strength. In a diluted mixture it seems even less likely to work. I joked with the flock owner that perhaps instead of “killing” the teat, this procedure chemically “dry-cleaned” it.

However the full-strength option, whether using chlorhexidine, 7% iodine, or formeldahyde (listed in ascending order of apparent effectiveness) is extremely painful. With my horseman friend Larry away on vacation, I don’t have access to banamine, the painkiller that might make it tolerable. I decided to go ahead with the painless, less than perfect solution.

veterinary teat cannula

I drove to the city an hour away and bought chlorhexine (the disinfectant Nolvasan) and sterile water. Not having a sheep-sized teat cannula (a blunt-tipped device for delivering infusions, which looks a bit like a bicycle needle) I washed out and sterilized an empty TODAY syringe. I mixed up the blue Nolvasan solution in a clean jam jar. I filled an empty film canister with rubbing alcohol to soak the teat, per instructions, for 30 seconds before each treatment.

I was all set. I went to the barn the next day with my coveralls sagging and clanking with veterinary accoutrements.

Unfortunately, when I checked Lily that morning I found that overnight her teat had ballooned to three times its normal size. Obviously infection had re-bloomed. Although for two weeks she had stood quietly chewing hay while I massaged her bag, now she jumped frantically away from my touch.

For the last four days I have treated her again with TODAY and stripped pus out of the teat. Thankfully, after 48 hours the swelling subsided and she was again standing quietly. The teat remains enlarged and fibrous.

Yesterday I began the Nolvasan treatments. I am not optimistic for great permanent results, but I am holding out hope that I can at least render the teat non-infectious for the current lactation, so Lily and her lamb can rejoin her mother, sisters, and the rest of the flock on grass over the summer.

For me, for the time being, that would be success enough.

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