Retained Placenta Update for Small Ruminant Producers
We here at Louisa Veterinary Service have been seeing an increased number of retained placentas this year. My theory about this relates to the good forage nutrition creating more multiple births and bigger babies. There is also the biblical mud!
I thought I would take advantage of this icy day to try and give you all a little refresher on retained placentas in small ruminants. Many producers go online to seek information about small ruminant health issues, however, very few of these sources are scientific. My favorite books to use are David Pugh’s Sheep and Goat Medicine and Dr. Mary Smith’s Goat Medicine. Both veterinarians are very knowledgeable and well-respected. I hope you find this document helpful and do not hesitate to reach out with questions.
· When is a placenta considered retained?
Basically, if the placenta has not been expelled in 12 hours after the last lamb or kid is born.
· What causes a retained placenta (RP)?
The number one reason for a RP is that the ewe or doe has another baby left inside! If you are not sure, glove up, clean up the back end of the female (soap and water), and use plenty of lube to do a thorough vaginal exam.
Do NOT try to manually remove the placenta. You can cause a lot of problems with hemorrhage and infection. We will discuss this more below.
Other causes for RP’s are selenium deficiency, Vitamin A deficiency, infectious abortions, obesity of the dam, low calcium, and difficult birth.
· What can you do to help a dam with an RP in the first 12-24 hours?
First, make certain there are no babies left inside of her, especially if she is acting unwell. If she is walking around and letting the babies nurse with no straining or discomfort, there are likely no babies left inside of her.
Give her warm water with molasses. Offer this to her several times after she has given birth.
Make a clean stall for her and her babies to stay in. This will reduce the chance of getting a uterine infection.
Strip some milk from the dam’s teats. This allows her to release natural oxytocin, which will help her uterus contract help to possibly advance the placenta.
Give the dam and the babies a dose of selenium, injectable is best, but oral is okay too. Any dam that retains her fetal membranes needs a dose of selenium! If you have a lot of mother’s retaining placentas it would be advisable to treat all expecting mothers with a selenium supplement 4-6 weeks ahead of birth.
· What can you do to help a dam that has retained the placenta over 24-48 hours?
Now is the time you need to assess the dam’s health. Take her rectal temperature. Remember, a goat’s normal temperature range can go from 101.5-104. If the goat has an elevated temperature and is not feeling well it would be advisable to start her on antibiotics. Daily penicillin injections or every other day injections of a long-acting tetracycline would be the drugs of choice.
*It is important to remember no antibiotics are labeled for goats, so you will need to ask your veterinarian for the correct dosages.
If the placenta is hanging and continuing to get filthy it is time to think about giving oxytocin injections to help her pass it. Hormone injections are rarely required to help with placenta removal, but when you need them, you need them. In veterinary school we call this better living through chemistry. Oxytocin is a prescription drug you will have to get from your vet.
Also, if the doe is not feeling well enough to eat and drink properly, she probably has a fever and is in pain. There are a couple of options. One is twice a day aspirin. Goats metabolize drugs very quickly, so their dose is quite high. The other option is a prescription drug called Banamine. It needs to be injected into the dam. Both need to be used with caution in animals that are not drinking well. Pain relief and fever reduction are important in these ladies and can speed up their recovery so that they can be a better mother.
· What are serious problems that can occur from RP’s?
It is important to remember that serious problems are rare, but it is important to know what they are to help avoid them.
A life-threatening infection would be the most imminent issue. Clostridial infections are common in RP dams, including tetanus. That is why a pre-partum CD&T vaccine is important. Any bacterial infection has the potential to get in the dam’s bloodstream and cause septicemia. These infections often require IV antibiotics and could result in death.
A more long-term effect of an RP is infertility. If the RP results in a chronic uterine infection, this can easily happen.
· What do the babies need while mom is not feeling well?
The babies may need to be supplemented with colostrum and/or milk until their mother is able to increase her production. This is especially the case regarding multiple babies.
They need to be given a selenium supplement and placed in a warm, clean, dry area with the mother.
Monitor the baby’s appetite and ability to pass urine and stool. If the dam has an infection the babies need to be monitored more closely.
· What are prevention strategies for retained placentas?
Strive to have ewes/does in the proper body condition for birthing. Neither obese nor skinny females do well with birthing. Both are prone to metabolic conditions, which can result in pregnancy toxemia. Pregnancy toxemia nearly always results in RP’s.
Give CD&T and a selenium supplement to your pre-partum females 4-6 weeks ahead of birthing if possible. These not only benefit the female, but they also benefit the babies.
If you assist a birth, be as clean as possible; and, if you check a doe for a retained fetus, be as clean as possible. Always wear gloves when you do this, many of the organisms living in a ruminant’s reproductive tract can cause major health problems for humans.
Have clean, dry birthing stalls available for your animals. Clean placentas and birthing fluids in between females when reusing a stall.
Keep some meds on hand so that you are prepared to help if the new mother or babies require it. If you have a good relationship with your veterinarian, you may also be able to get prescription drugs to have on hand at birthing time.
Do not be afraid to ask for help from a professional before the situation becomes critical. These post-partum health problems require producers to be paying attention.