I’ve had several cases of frothy bloat crop up this year. The interesting thing is that it’s appearing in regular ol’ lambs nursing on their mothers, at the age of 3-4 weeks, when they are just starting to transition to real ruminating. I’m used to seeing it in bottle lambs trained to drink of the “milk bar” bucket. They are prone to bloat because of their gorging habit when the bucket is re-filled  with milk. But I’ve never seen it before in regular, non-grain-fed lambs, and I can’t find any documentation to explain it.

Frothy bloat is also common when sheep of any age graze a lot of clover. But the pasture my sheep are on has very little clover. So, it’s a mystery to me why they would be getting this. I assume it’s a result of really good eating, both from milk and grass. Our grass is going bananas in this weather, which is probably fuelling excellent milk production, as well as feeding the lambs some prime forage. Sometimes I snack on the inner reeds of our orchard grass when I’m out in the pasture; and right now, the sugar content is so high, it’s as sweet as an apple!

Frothy bloat is very telltale: foam exudes from their mouths and nostrils like a volcano. They cough and sputter and shake their heads, trying to rid themselves of the foam overload. It’s quite distressing to them, as evidenced by the fact that they are easy to catch. They are so preoccupied with the sensation of drowning in foam spew, that they have a hard time running with the herd, or paying attention to their surroundings.

It is not to be confused by the sight of a little milk froth in the corner of the mouth of a lamb that has just nursed. The difference is that lambs with a little milk drool act casual. Lambs with frothy bloat are acting like they feel like they’re gonna die- like any of us would feel and act if we had massive amounts of foam uncontrollably emanating from our throats. 

The treatment is very simple. A quick syringe full of oil (I use olive oil, just because that’s what we have in our kitchen) settles the bubbling right down- literally within a minute or two. It’s just like putting oil in dishwater- the suds dissipate instantly. People who grain-feed lambs should also accompany the treatment with some baking soda, to raise the pH in the rumen. But I’m not worried about acidosis since my lambs are only on grass, so oil alone works fine for me as a treatment.

I suspect that most lambs recover from this spontaneously on their own. But it does seem to me that there is risk of choking, or aspirating enough fluid as to trigger pneumonia. So, I treat it when I see it, just to be on the safe side; and because it offers such instant relief from distress.

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