Prevention & Anemia Signs, Symptoms In Sheep

Anemia is a common health problem in ruminant animals, and the malady can quickly lead to death. Here's how to prevent and monitor for sheep anemia.

by Rachel Porter
PHOTO: elenavolf/Adobe Stock

At this point in the summer, when the heat is so intense for several days in a row, health issues in sheep or goats can quickly escalate beyond treatment. All small ruminant animal owners fear parasite overload and diseases, and now is the time to check sheep daily for signs of anemia. Animals’ ability to fight these issues can be severely compromised in the hot summer heat.

What Is Anemia?

Simply stated, anemia means a deficiency of red blood cells. When red blood cell counts plummet, animals’ bodies aren’t creating new cells. Energy and oxygen levels are affected, and the ruminants’ bodies go into a state of starvation. 

Parasites quickly become prolific and consume the blood faster than the animal can regenerate new blood cells. 

Symptoms of anemia include but are not limited to:

  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Lethargy 
  • Complications delivering and nursing babies
  • Brain fog
  • Dullness of fur (not glossy and smooth)
  • Pale gums
  • Pale eyelids
  • Diarrhea
  • Bottle jaw

Causes of anemia include nutritional deficiencies of trace minerals, parasitic diseases, toxic plant consumption, injuries with excessive blood loss, copper poisoning, other diseases spread through tick bites and more. 


It is critical to obtain a diagnosis from a veterinarian before treating anemia in sheep, goats and other ruminants. Knowing the reason for the anemia will be crucial for the vet to choose a course of treatment.

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Treatment varies for parasitic infestations and other causes. By far, the most common cause of anemia is parasitic infestation. But you will want to diagnose the cause with certainty before treating the sheep or goats. It can take a ruminant animal six to eight weeks to recover with focused treatment.

Even after that, the animal will need extra monitoring.


Defense against anemia can be covered a few ways. In regards to anemia resulting from parasite overload, deworming protocols and nutritional supplements are good prevention strategies. Placing mineral and protein blocks in your sheep and goat pens is very important, as they will eat it free choice.

Sufficient hay and grass is necessary as well. If they don’t have good quality hay and grass, they will forage on poor quality roughage. Keep in mind green hay is the most nutritious, while faded brown has lower value. 

The best step for prevention is continuous monitoring. Checking gums and eyelids frequently will serve you well in the long run. You can also run stool tests when their health becomes questionable and see a vet to have blood counts checked.

And, especially in this summer heat, make certain to never let your animals become dehydrated. Dehydration will speed up the devastating effect anemia has on sheep and other animals. 

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