WA Livestock Disease Outlook - for vets

Know the number - 1800 675 888 

The Emergency Animal Disease (EAD) Hotline is a national toll-free telephone number that supports Australia’s general surveillance system for animal diseases by facilitating easy reporting of unusual disease signs in livestock, poultry or aquatic animals in Western Australia. Your call will be answered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by trained operators in the WA call centre.  

Ensure you have this number saved in your phone: 

EAD hotline number is 1800 675 888

When to call the EAD Hotline: 

  • suspicion of an exotic or emergency animal disease in livestock – for example: foot and mouth disease 
  • unusual disease signs, abnormal behaviour and/or unexpected deaths in your livestock 
  • suspicion of an exotic pest 
  • to report a reportable animal disease in WA. 

Recent livestock disease investigations  

Lupinosis and hepatic encephalopathy in sheep within the Wheatbelt and Great Southern regions

Multiple properties across southern WA extending from the Wheatbelt region to the Great Southern have been impacted by lupinosis in sheep:

  • One property in the Wheatbelt had 50 deaths and 330 affected from a flock of 1,500 over a period of 5 days. The mob consisted of  8 month-old Merino lambs. The sheep were grazing a lupin crop stubble, plus oaten hay. A rainfall event occurred 2 weeks prior to the sheep showing clinical signs. 
  • The affected lambs showed neurological signs: altered mentation, stargazing and appeared blind.   
  • A DPIRD field veterinarian examined the sheep, conducted a post-mortem and submitted samples for laboratory testing. On post-mortem, the lamb had an enlarged pale, tan to yellow coloured liver with acinar/nutmeg pattern. This is a characteristic finding of lupinosis.  
  • DDLS laboratory testing excluded lead toxicosis, which also causes blindness and dull mentation in sheep (and cattle). Lead toxicosis is a risk to human food safety and access to export markets if found in food-producing animals.
  • Annual ryegrass toxicity (ARGT) was excluded via testing of the rumen fluid.  
  • Histopathologic examination led to the diagnosis of lupinosis and hepatic encephalopathy.   
  • Lupinosis is a liver disease caused by the consumption of lupin stubble colonised by the fungus Diaporthe toxica. It can be expressed in either an acute form or as a chronic liver dysfunction syndrome. The acute form is most likely to occur after summer rains where the lupin stalk becomes softened and more palatable to livestock.
  • All livestock are susceptible to lupinosis but sheep are the most susceptible. Weaners are most commonly affected because they tend to eat the stem of the lupin. 
  • Sheep and cattle showing neurological signs may qualify for a subsidised investigation under the transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) program.  

For more information, see the DPIRD Lupinosis in sheep webpage.  

A yellow swollen sheep liver
Yellow, swollen liver from sheep with acute lupinosis

Reportable infectious abortion agents of ewes ruled out by DPIRD 

Abortion of over 30 lambs from mixed-aged ewes in confinement pens in the Great Southern region:  

  • Only a few pens were affected, both single and twin-bearing ewes, at 4 months gestation. 
  • Ewes were of good body condition and up to date with vaccinations.   
  • The private veterinarian contacted a DPIRD field veterinary officer and was granted approval for subsidised testing via the Significant Disease Investigation (SDI) program.  
  • The private veterinarian collected the appropriate base samples and additional diagnostic samples for submission to the laboratory.  
  • Real time PCR and bacterial culture for reportable/notifiable causes of ovine abortion were negative, including Salmonella spp, Chlamydia spp. and Brucella melitensis.
  • It is important to Australian sheep export markets to be able to demonstrate continued freedom from enzootic abortion and exotic brucellosis and salmonellosis.
  • Investigating abortion storms in sheep can provide this evidence and increases trading partner confidence in our claims of freedom from these significant diseases. 
  • Real time PCR and bacterial culture for Campylobacter fetus subspecies fetus returned a positive result.
  • Histopathology revealed a necrotising placentitis associated with large numbers of bacteria: these changes were compatible with campylobacteriosis.  
  • Testing for other infectious causes of abortions, including Leptospirosis and Toxoplasmosis, was negative.  
  • Campylobacter infections can cause late abortions and weak or stillborn lambs. The bacteria survives in the digestive system of some sheep and cattle, and is shed onto pasture.
  • Vaccination for Campylobacter is available in Australia.  
  • Please note that abortion and infertility cases may be due to zoonotic diseases. Ensure that you and the producers are observing hygiene precautions and appropriate PPE are worn including eye protection, a face mask and double gloves.
  • Pregnant women should avoid handling aborted material where possible due to the potential risk of zoonoses. 

For more information, see the DPIRD webpages on infertility and abortion in ewes and ovine campylobacteriosis.  

In winter, be on the lookout for:

Disease, typical history and clinical signs Samples (additional to base set)

Abortions in ewes

  • Can occur at any stage of the pregnancy, but later term abortions are more often noticed.
  • Abortion "storms" with rates over 5% should be investigated by a veterinarian.  
  • Can be caused by a range of infectious and non-infectious agents, including diseases exotic to Australia and zoonoses. 
  • Endemic causes of abortion include toxoplasmosis, Q fever, campylobacteriosis (previously known as vibriosis), salmonellosis, listeriosis, border disease and leptospirosis. 
  • Exotic and reportable causes of abortion include Chlamydophilia abortus, Brucella melitensis and Salmonella abortus
  • Investigating abortion and infertility cases may involve zoonotic diseases, please observe use of PPE and hand hygiene. 

Read more on infertility and abortion in ewes


  • N/A 

Post-mortem - Ewe:  

  • fresh cotyledons 
  • fresh uterus 
  • uterine swab (amies and viral transport medium). 

Post-mortem – Foetus: 

  • fresh in separate containers - lung, liver, kidney, adrenal gland, stomach content, skin/eyelid.

Arthritis in lambs 

  • Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae is the most common bacterial arthritis in lambs in WA.  
  • Lambs are most susceptible to infection soon after birth (via the umbilicus), or at marking, mulesing and shearing. Any break or wetting and softening of the skin can allow bacteria to enter and arthritis to develop. 
  • Differentials include endemic diseases such as footrot, foot abscesses, laminitis from grain overload, scabby mouth extending to the lower legs, rickets, white muscle disease.  
  • Differential emergency diseases including FMD and bluetongue virus.  
  • Prevention involves ensuring hygienic mulesing and shearing practices in lambs and/or a vaccination program in ewes prior to lambing if erysipelas arthritis has been identified as the cause.

Read more on arthritis in sheep.


  • N/A 


  • swab (amies and viral transport medium) of joint fluid/synovium for culture
  • alternatively, a sample of joint fluid in a plain blood tube 
  • fixed joint capsule and muscle 
  • fixed bone/joint sample if lesions or deformity. 

Also examine lame stock for signs of myopathy, bone fractures, footrot and foot-and-mouth disease.  

Footrot swab media is available from your DPIRD field veterinary officer.  

Pregnancy toxaemia in ewes 

  • Usually in late pregnant/early lactating ewes.   
  • Signs in affected ewes can include depression, anorexia, weakness, recumbency, neurological signs and death. Signs may be worse following stress. Affected ewes may isolate themselves from the mob.  
  • Prevention can be achieved by providing adequate nutrition, minimising stress during late pregnancy, and pregnancy scanning to identify twin mothers, followed by preferential feeding.
  • Differential diagnoses: Scrapie (exotic), cerebral abscess, acidosis, enterotoxaemia, hypocalcaemia, nutritional myopathy in primiparous ewes and meningitis.  
  • Early diagnosis and treatment with glucose and supplementary feeding of good quality hay and oats can halt deterioration.  

Read more on pregnancy toxaemia in sheep


  • 10 mL blood in lithium heparin tube 



  • 1 mL vitreous humor in plain tube  
  • fixed liver  
  • fixed entire brain  

Adult sheep 18 months to 5 years of age showing neurological signs are eligible for subsidy under the transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) program. Speak to your DPIRD field veterinary officer about subsidised investigations. 

Grass tetany in sheep and cattle  

  • Magnesium deficiency or hypomagnesaemia.  
  • Sheep at risk include pregnant and lactating ewes. Growing lambs are occasionally affected.  
  • Cattle at risk include older, highly productive cows in their first 4 months of lactation. 
  • Frequently occurs in winter/spring when grazing fast growing lush green pasture and crop.
  • Often associated with cold weather, grazing grass-dominated pastures or recent topdressing with potassium (potash) 
  • Signs may include muscle twitching, convulsions, excitement, bellowing, apparent aggression, stiff gait and sudden death.
  • Affected animals are typically found dead with paddle marks.  

Magnesium-deficient cattle normally present with clinically consistent signs for TSE and may be suitable for the TSE exclusion subsidy. See the TSE webpage or contact your DPIRD field veterinary officer for details. 


Read more on grass tetany.


  • 10 mL blood in lithium heparin tube 
  • 10 mL blood in EDTA tube 


  • 2 mL vitreous humor in plain tube  
  • fixed brain 
  • fresh spinal cord  

Brain and spinal cord sections for TSE sampling


  • fresh spinal cord 2-3 cm  
  • fixed brain and brainstem* 


  • fresh spinal cord 2-3 cm 
  • fresh 5x5 mm small piece of dorsal cerebellum 
  • fixed brain & brainstem* 

*TSE sampling requires the entire brain and brainstem fixed in formalin. 

Include base samples and any clinical or gross lesions in submissions.

For advice on sample submission, contact your DPIRD field veterinary officer, see the sampling and post-mortem resources webpage or phone the duty pathologist on 08 9368 3351.  

See DPIRD’s webpages for the livestock disease veterinary sampling guide and veterinary sample packaging guide

Private vet workshop to support animal disease surveillance in WA 

Fifteen veterinarians participated in the private veterinary practitioner workshop held on 28 and 29 July 2023, coordinated by DPIRD Bunbury Field Veterinary Officer Dr Will Janson.  These workshops are organised annually and are important in connecting private veterinarians working with livestock and DPIRD’s Animal Biosecurity and Welfare team.  

Topics of discussion included veterinarian investigation process for an EAD exclusion, a national and global EAD update and an update on the eID Sheep Project. Four practical sessions were conducted in the new South Perth DDLS Laboratory building. These sessions covered avian sample collection, external carcass lesion identification, optimal sample size, sample collection sites for neurological disease and biosecure sample packaging and handling.  

DPIRD policy officer Dr Simon Hollamby presented information on the WA Veterinary Reserve project. The WA EAD Veterinary Reserve will be a group of qualified WA registered veterinarians who make themselves available to rapidly assist the Department in responding to EAD outbreaks.  Reserve members will be paid to complete a 45-hour training course over a 12-month period and then remain in the reserve for two years after the training.  An invitation to sign up to the reserve will begin circulating soon.  

A big thank you to all the attendees, practitioners who shared cases and presenters that that were able to join us for this workshop and the DPIRD staff involved in coordinating and organising the event. DPIRD is currently intending to reproduce this workshop in a regional location later this year for any vets that could not attend this one. Keep an eye on your inbox for more information or contact Dr Will Janson at will.janson@dpird.wa.gov.au.  

a basic emergency animal disease investigation kit
Basic emergency animal disease investigation kit

Resources for producers for the 2023 season 

DPIRD has a new webpage with information for producers for the 2023 season, including seasonal issues, livestock management, crop management, land and water management and updates on the climate situation and outlook.  

The webpage Season 2023: information for WA farmers provides more information.  

Livestock disease investigations protect our markets 

Australia’s ability to sell livestock and livestock products depends on evidence from our livestock disease surveillance and investigations to provide evidence Australia is free from many significant livestock diseases that affect trade.  

Find out more about WA's animal health surveillance programs


We welcome feedback. To provide comments or to subscribe to the monthly newsletter, email waldo@dpird.wa.gov.au.  

To see previous issues of the WALDO – for veterinarians, please visit our archive page.