WA Livestock Disease Outlook - for producers

The WA Livestock Disease Outlook provides information about recent livestock disease cases in Western Australia and diseases likely to occur in the next month. Calling a vet to investigate diseases when they occur provides surveillance evidence to our markets that we are free of reportable and trade-relevant diseases.

Recent livestock diseases

Pulpy kidney causes deaths in lambs

  • In a flock of 150 five-month-old Merino lambs, six died within 24 hours. Five were found dead, and one was found weak.
  • The producer accessed a subsidy through the Significant Disease Investigation Program by phoning the local private vet to arrange a disease investigation. The private vet saw the weak lamb, which died shortly after arrival.
  • The private vet investigated the disease with assistance from a DPIRD vet. The vets conducted a post-mortem of the weak lamb and submitted samples to the DPIRD laboratory for testing.
  • The cause of death was diagnosed as pulpy kidney (enterotoxaemia). Diagnosis was based on laboratory testing to identify the toxin in the intestine.
  • Pulpy kidney occurs when a bacterium that normally lives in the animal’s intestine without causing problems begins to multiply, and produces a toxin that poisons the animal. Usually the bacterium multiplies when sheep are on a diet of lush pasture or grain.
  • Pulpy kidney is typically seen in well grown lambs, particularly where a feed change has occurred.
  • Pulpy kidney can be prevented by vaccination. Gradual introduction to improved feed can also reduce the risk of pulpy kidney outbreaks.
  • Additional testing in this case ruled out lead toxicity, which could cause similar signs of weakness and death in sheep (and cows), and is a risk to human food safety and access to export markets if found in food-producing animals.

Backyard poultry with facial swelling test negative for avian influenza

  • A  resident who owned chickens contacted the Emergency Animal Disease hotline to report her sick chicken and facial swelling in her chickens. Five of her 60 chickens had swollen heads.
  • It is important to report unusual signs in poultry. Swollen heads in poultry may be signs of reportable diseases, particularly avian influenza and Newcastle disease.
  • A DPIRD vet attended the property to conduct a disease investigation. The vet took samples for laboratory testing and the testing was subsidised through DPIRD because the disease signs were similar to reportable diseases.
  • Test results for avian influenza and Newcastle disease were negative. Negative results help to demonstrate WA’s freedom from these diseases, which in turn supports market access.
  • Bacterial culture results indicated that the swollen heads were due to the disease infectious coryza. This disease is caused by a common bacterium, Avibacterium paragallinarum.
  • Most of the affected birds made a quick recovery.

Cow showing neurological signs tests negative for mad cow disease

  • A veterinary inspection at an abattoir detected an adult cow displaying neurological signs (walking in circles and appearing blind). These signs are similar to those in the exotic disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease.) The cow was humanely euthanised and the on-plant vet conducted a post-mortem. The vet submitted samples to the DPIRD laboratory for testing.
  • The test results for mad cow disease were negative. This result supports WA’s international market access by providing evidence that our cattle are free of this disease.
  • Bacterial culture and pathology results from the laboratory indicated the cow had an abscess on its brain caused by the bacterium Trueperella pyogenes.
  • Always contact a vet if you see unusual signs in livestock. Subsidies are available for producers under a number of surveillance incentives when livestock disease is investigated by a vet.
  • Producers who have suitable cattle or sheep with nervous symptoms investigated and autopsied by a vet are eligible for TSE subsidies to cover all laboratory costs and most veterinary post-mortem and travel costs.

Heading up north on the summer holidays? Remember tick treatment for your canine companions

Ehrlichiosis dog
The dog above was infected with Ehrlichia canis. Blood coming from the nose and small flecks of blood can be seen in the gum and on the skin between the legs. Bleeding is seen in some cases. [Photos courtesy of Dr John Beadle]
  • Dog owners in the Kimberley, Pilbara, Gascoyne and Goldfields regions, and anyone talking their dogs to these areas on holidays, are reminded to remain vigilant for signs of ehrlichiosis in dogs.
  • Dogs become infected by ehrlichiosis when they are bitten by a brown dog tick carrying the bacterium. Transmission does not occur directly between dogs.
  • Signs of ehrlichiosis in dogs can include weakness, not eating, pale gums, bleeding, weight loss, runny eyes and nose.
  • Ehrlichiosis is a nationally notifiable disease. Call your vet or the emergency animal disease hotline 1800 675 888 if you suspect your dog has had exposure to ticks and has signs of ehrlichiosis. Early treatment provides the best chance of the dog recovering.
  • Owners living in or taking their animals to northern WA should ensure their dogs are on an effective tick treatment.
  • Dog owners should also check their dogs for ticks frequently and remove them if found.
  • People moving their dogs out of the Kimberley must notify DPIRD and only move dogs if they are healthy and on a tick treatment. Details can be found on the Ehrlichiosis in dogs webpage.

In spring, watch for these livestock diseases

Barber’s pole worm in sheep

  • Usually seen in late spring/early summer in coastal areas of agricultural regions of WA.
  • Weaners with inadequate immunity commonly affected at this time of the year.
  • Signs include sudden death, pale gums, weakness and bottle-jaw.
  • Read more on Barber’s pole worm Barber's pole worm in sheep.

Polioencephalomalacia (PEM) in sheep and cattle

  • Thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency is the most common cause of PEM in WA.
  • Most often occurs in WA when there is a sudden change to feed composition. All ages and classes can be affected.
  • Most outbreaks involve only a few animals in the mob but can result in death rates as high as 10%.
  • Signs in affected stock include muscle twitching, seizures, head pressing, blindness, paddling and head thrown back, and death.
  • Read more about PEM.

Recent cattle deaths a reminder to prevent livestock access to lead

cow investigating battery

  • Several recent cattle deaths have occurred on two South-West properties as a result of cattle eating parts of batteries, which contain lead.
  • Stock owners are reminded to remove or fence off items containing lead from grazing paddocks. Batteries, sump oil, paint, old machinery are all sources of lead and present a risk of both poisoning and residues.
  • Animals affected by lead poisoning may become blind, unresponsive to their surroundings and bump into obstacles. Other livestock that have eaten lead may show no signs of ill-health, but these animals are quarantined by DPIRD until laboratory testing has confirmed the animals are free from residues.
  • Preventing residues in meat and meat products is critical for human food safety and WA’s ongoing access to valuable export markets.
  • For more information on preventing lead poisoning and residues in livestock, visit the preventing lead poisoning and residues in livestock webpage.