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Sheep and Goat Diseases, Scrapie, Diagnosis, and Treatment

What is scrapie disease in sheep? What is scrapie disease in goats? What are the symptoms of scrapie in a sheep? What are the symptoms of scrapie in a goat? How to diagnose scrapie? Why is my sheep itching? Why is my goat scratching? Scrapie is caused by a prion, it is not fully understood but it does attack the brain.

What is Scrapie?

Scrapie is a disease that occurs both in sheep, and goats. It has been around for at least 200 years and is likely caused by a protein known as a prion. It affects the nervous system of the sheep or goat. If you keep sheep or goats you will want to be aware of this condition as it can be fatal.

Scrapie does not appear to affect humans, or other animals, however it is still not fully understood, as prions themselves are not fully understood. It has been suggested that scrapie spreads via the urine and can remain in the environment for several years. Other indications are that it is spread in the fetal fluid and afterbirth from lambing, as such it is passed from ewe to lamb, but other sheep who come in contact with bedding used at birthing, may ingest the prions at that time and become infected. It is believed the prions cannot be spread in the air.

Scrapie seems to affect adult animals, those two to six years old, more than it does the younger animals, suggesting it may take years to develop.

Symptoms of Scrapie in Sheep and Goats

  • Early symptoms may be hard to detect, an infected sheep or goat may simply lag behind the flock.
  • It may appear to grind its teeth.
  • Aggression and biting.
  • The infected sheep or goat will often itch excessively, often causing bald areas to appear on the skin due to rubbing on trees and fence posts.
  • Weight loss.
  • Animals will be in poor condition, wool may be lost on wool sheep.
  • Lethargy.
  • Death.

Scrapie can be confused with other illnesses or problems, one being external parasites such as keds or lice. Other diseases that may look similar are rabies, copper poisoning, and pregnancy toxemia.

©by author - goats at auction

Treatment and Prevention of Scrapie in Sheep and Goats

There is no treatment or cure for scrapie; and currently there is no vaccine for scrapie.

Some breeds of sheep have been found to be more likely to come down with scrapie, these being the Cheviot and Suffolk.

Until recently tests for this condition could only be done on the tissues of dead animals, but currently tests can sample tissue taken from the animal's third eyelid.

It is generally suggested not to acquire new sheep at lambing time, and to isolate sheep who are lambing and be sure to clean the lambing stall of wet bedding as soon as possible. This applies to goats and kidding as well.

Scrapie has been shown to live in the environment, possibly in soils, for years.

In most areas scrapie is a reportable disease.

Infected animals cannot be used as food for humans. 

Scrapie is known in many countries, Canada, USA, Iceland, as well as the United Kingdom.

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