Rectal Prolapse in Sheep

by Kenny Burroughs

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Introduction and History

Rectal prolapse is a common problem in sheep and often results in the health problems or death. This is when part of the rectum is protruding from the anus of the sheep, exposing the tissue to the open air. Rectal prolapse is typically seen when the lamb has a cough or diarrhea, although there are several factors throughout a lifetime that can also lead to rectal prolapse. When a prolapse occurs, the tissue is a bright red color and will become dry and cracked which causes an irritation for the animal. Rectal prolapse becomes a problem for a farmer when multiple sheep become infected, thus forcing an owner to not keep the animals.

What we know and how we prevent it:

Almost all sheep are susceptible to this disease but ewe lambs are affected more than wether lambs. Blackface lambs are also more susceptible than white face lambs, however there is only one estimate for heritability of this trait: 0.14. Common reasons that a sheep may show signs of this disease include: sex, age, diet, coughing, diarrhea, condition or implanting. Coughing and diarrhea can cause rectal prolapse for obvious reasons although it is molded feeds that can promote transplants which cause the rectum to relax and eventually leading to rectal prolapse. When a sheep becomes infected with this disease, the owner must decide to keep it or treat it. Inserting the prolapsed tissues back into the rectum and applying sutures around the anus is a common technique used as well as amputation. To prevent further disease, owners do not retain ewe or ram lambs that prolapse, do not keep rams that sire lambs that prolapse, overfeed or use moldy feed and do not finish ewes in a feedlot.

Rectal Prolapse Discussion

Rectal Prolapse, in my opinion is not a problem of genetics as much as a problem of maintaining or taking care of the animals. There are studies showing that a shorter tail dock can increase the risk of this disease. The point is that most factors are preventable with proper farming procedures. So, if the disease is easily prevented, why is rectal prolapse occurring in sheep? Is it random or is there a pattern? Rectal prolapse is not the largest problem for sheep farmers because it is a disease that will not regularly come up under proper farming practices. You should not breed the sheep that suffer from this disease and you should not breed the sheep that produce offspring that suffer from rectal prolapse.


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