There are three possible types of prolapses at lambing time – vaginal, rectal and uterine. They can be time consuming and troublesome, requiring care and patience at a busy time. Laura Bowyer speaks to Hilary Jones, veterinary surgeon at Usk Vets, Monmouthshire.
Vaginal prolapses most commonly happen in the last two weeks of pregnancy, or at the on-set of lambing. If they are untreated they become very large as the bladder, which is involved in the prolapse, fills.
Vet Hilary Jones says: “Chronic straining caused by a vaginal prolapse can cause a vaginal rupture and the intestines and bladder can become visible. This can happen very quickly and ewes will either die as a result, or need putting down.”
Uterine prolapses can follow a difficult lambing of big lambs with continued straining after birth. They are easily diagnosed, as button-like caruncles are seen on the inside of the uterus and will happen immediately after lambing, says Mrs Jones.
She says: “An infection of the womb or damaged vagina can cause a uterine prolapse and ewes will lie down and strain.
A vet should be consulted and the prolapse replaced under epidural.
“The epidural should stop the straining and reduce pain. The ewe will also require antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
If a ewe continues straining after birth, or once a prolapse has been replaced, a rectal prolapse may occur. The rectum’s fleshy inside will protrude from the ewe’s anus and is very difficult to replace. Prompt treatment is required to prevent a large amount of intestine showing.
“Prolapses can be managed, but losses can be significant. Poorly handled prolapses cause suffering and are a major welfare concern to the industry,” says Mrs Jones.
“If a ewe prolapses it is almost certain she will do the same the following year so should be permanently marked and culled.”
Act quickly on vaginal prolapses to minimise the risk of rupture. Mrs Jones advises against holding ewes by the hind legs when replacing prolapses, to avoid damaging unborn lambs, saying most can be replaced in standing ewes. Always:
A nutrition plan needs formulating, based on the ewes’ body condition score and scanning results, advises Mrs Jones.
“Ewes should be grouped according to scanning results and the best quality forage given to those carrying the most.
“Forage, silage and concentrates should be analysed and a nutrition plan formulated for six to eight weeks before lambing.
You cannot play nutritional catch-up when ewes enter late pregnancy.
“Do not bear a lot of prolapses in silence. Your vet and nutritionist may be able to suggest changes to the diet to reduce problems in the same season. The following year consult these specialists and formulate a diet to avoid the same issue arising,” she says.
It can be difficult to deal with ewes which start to prolapse at the point of lambing. The fleshiness of the swollen vaginal wall can block the birth canal, and a caesarean is often needed.
Early lambing can be induced by the continual straining, often causing dead or unviable lambs.