How To Treat Hypothermia In Newborn Lambs

What should you do if signs indicate one of your newborn lambs has hypothermia? It's important to act quickly; these steps can help you save a life.

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by Jana WilsonFebruary 21, 2022
PHOTO: Jana Wilson

Last month I wrote about how to identify hypothermia in lambs, as a number of my friends are lambing during the winter months. 

 To recap: 

“The first sign you may see is the lamb lying for long periods on its side, head down. Young lambs may lie like that if they are out in the sun, but for the most part they will have their head up. You will need to go nudge it with your hand or foot and see if it will get up.

“A healthy lamb will stand up and stretch, then go find its mother to nurse a bit. If your lamb does that, they are probably just fine. If not, you may need to do a bit more.

“One thing you can and should do immediately is take the lamb’s temperature. A normal temperature for a lamb is about 102 degrees F. If it’s at 100 degrees F or less, your lamb most likely is suffering from hypothermia.

“Other possible signs of hypothermia are weakness, not being able to get up and crying excessively.”

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How to Treat Hypothermia in Lambs

Of course, the first thing I recommend is calling your vet. But sometimes this isn’t possible or there just isn’t time.

So I went back to my mentor and friend, Denice Rackley, to ask her what I should do if I need to act quickly to save a lamb that is cold and not nursing.

First of all, if a lamb is about 99 to 101 degrees F, it is mildly hypothermic. Below 99 degrees F is severely hypothermic. This tells you how quickly you need to act.

If a lamb is below 101 degrees F, Denice recommends looking at three factors:

  1. Are they older or younger than 5 hours old?
  2. Are they able to stand?
  3. Do they have a suck reflex and are they able to swallow?

Then move the lamb to a warm place near a heat source while you assess the situation and figure out the next step.


Read more: If you lamb in the winter, here’s how to watch for hypothermia in lambs.


Inject Glucose

First off, lambs are born with brown fat that protects them for a few hours until they are able to nurse and get energy from their mother’s colostrum and then milk. But if they are unable to nurse or swallow, you may have to help out with a jump start.

Denice recommends using a stomach tube to get some much-needed energy into the lamb’s stomach. Or you can do an intraperitoneal injection (near the abdomen) of glucose.

I have purchased a feeding tube and it’s in my lambing kit. But luckily have not yet had to use it. Each year I watch videos to remind myself what to do in case I would have to tube feed a lamb.

Here is one from Purdue University that seems fairly straightforward.

While I really don’t want to have to have my lambs get to this stage, if I have to give them an intraperitoneal injection, I’ll try to be as ready as I possibly can! The Ohio State University Sheep Team offers instructions and glucose dosages here in case you need to do that as well.

Denice notes that warming the lamb first is always preferable, but if the lamb is more than five hours old and has not nursed, it has used up its reserve of warming brown fat. So, getting the energy into the lamb will be your first goal before you spend time warming it.


Read more: Lambing is a learning experience. Read about one shepherd’s mistakes and what she learned to do differently.


Offering Colostrum

If your hypothermic lamb is able to suckle, you can try giving it some colostrum in a bottle. Either get the colostrum by milking the ewe or using a mix you can purchase and mix with warm water.

When the lamb’s body temperature has returned to normal, it’s always best to return the lamb to the ewe and allow it to try to nurse normally. You will still need to keep an eye on the lamb, however. Ensure that milk is coming from the ewe’s teats and that the lamb is swallowing.

I hope none of you ever have to experience this type of lambing emergency, but it’s really best to be prepared. Just having the supplies on hand and having a general idea of what you need to do in your head could be the key to keeping all of your lambs healthy and happy!

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