Prolapses in sheep

Hi Readers,

As we enter lambing season I wanted to explore a little more into common issues I face when working on the farm during this busy period. I chose today to look specifically at prolapses of the vagina as this is something I have had to deal with regularly without completely appreciating what I was dealing with.

What are they?

In some ewes a prolapse of the vagina is only seen as a pink, fleshy protuberance when lying down and disappears when she stands. However, in some ewes the prolapse doesn’t disappear when she stands and the delicate tissue becomes infected, swells up and can become damaged further and bleed. The ewe suffers discomfort at this stage, straining more and increasing abdominal pressure – this makes the situation worse.

As more of the vagina protrudes the pressure blocks off the urethra so the sheep cannot urinate. This leads to rupturing of the bladder. The vagina can also become so congested and damaged it may rupture allowing coils of intestine to escape resulting in peritonitis. Ewes usually die at this stage.

What causes them?

Usually occurs very close to lambing and in older ewes, where the cervix fails to open properly and allow birth of the lambs. The ewes usually have low calcium levels (hypocalcaemia) – calcium is important for maintaining muscle tone, so a lack of tone in the muscular walls of the vagina may lead to a prolapse.

Ewes carrying twins/triplets are more prone than those carrying singles as there is less room and abdominal pressure is greater.

How can you treat it?

In mild cases keeping a close eye on the animal should be sufficient and, as a lack of calcium could be involved, injecting 50ml of 20% solution of calcium borogluconate under the skin would be helpful.

Lukewarm water can be used to carefully clean a permanent prolapse containing a small about of very mild disinfectant and gently dab dry with a towel. Using cupped hands, the prolapse can be pushed back in slowly and patiently; care should be taken not to use fingertips as this could rupture the vagina and lead to peritonitis and eventually death. From experience I have then applied a harness in order to stop prolapsing occurring again before lambing.

Have any of you ever seen this during lambing? I’m interested to hear how you’ve dealt with it.



The Veterinary Book For Sheep Farmers, David C. Henderson 2010.

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