David McCrea, of Capontree Veterinary Centre, outlines how to deal with pink eye issues in both cattle and sheep.

IF you’ve noticed your animals getting sore eyes this year, you’re not the only one. This year has been a particularly bad year for eye issues in both cattle and sheep. Pink eye can be a common livestock issue, in sheep it can be one of two bacteria. Chlamydia psittaci (ovis) or Mycoplasma .

How does pink eye spread?

Small ruminants easily transmit pink eye from one animal to the next. This highly contagious bacteria is more common in spring and summer but can occur at any time of the year. Outbreaks of Pink Eye can show up after a new animal has been introduced to the flock. Sheep eating from the trough spread the bacteria through direct contact.

In addition to close contact with affected animals, stress can play a part in sheep contracting the bacteria. Moving animals, new surroundings, and extreme weather changes are some ways your sheep and goats can experience stress.

Flies are vectors and can carry the bacteria between animals. Fly control is important not only when talking about flystrike treatment, but with other infections too.

What are the signs of pink eye in sheep?

  • The animal with pink eye will blink frequently;
  • The eyes become more sensitive to any irritant and can be bothered by bright sunlight;
  • You may see the sheep holding its eyes partially or all the way closed in bright light;
  • Tearing and wet stain below the eye is often noted;
  • The eye membranes are red and inflamed looking;
  • Inflammation of the cornea and conjunctiva of the eye is the telltale sign of pink eye;
  • An opaque appearance can take over the eye and temporary or permanent blindness can occur, in severe cases.

What is the economic impact of Pink Eye?

Pink eye is rarely fatal. Loss of condition can occur if the animal’s blindness leads to it not finding enough food. Mostly, the infection is annoying and painful to the animal and may lead to some weight loss. The economic impact occurs mainly from the cost of treating a large flock.

Some farmers with large flocks of sheep will choose to use an injection of long acting antibiotic. Consult your veterinarian for advice when administering drugs to your flock.

With smaller flocks, treating pink eye is more feasible. Isolate any animal showing signs of illness or infection. The most common treatments are ophthalmic ointment, which should be administered two to three times a day to the eyes. If there is no improvement after two days, consult your vet for alternative treatments.

We get a very good response from treatment, but the immunity is not long lasting in sheep and goats, some flocks suffer from a re-occurrence of the disease. Cattle can also suffer a pink eye infection. The infection in cattle is caused by Moraxella bovis. This is a different bacteria than the two responsible for pink eye in sheep. It is a painful disease and prompt and aggressive treatment is required.