Monday, September 19, 2011


My dear sweet Gertrude appears to be in a slow and bumping downward spiral. I think that I have finally figured out what it is that has been causing all of her symptoms. It was staring me in the face the whole time.

White Muscle Disease.

The white muscle disease can affect any skeletal or cardiac muscles, and in severe cases can cause damage in the heart and diaphragm. The symptoms of these complications?
  • Persistent Fever
  • Edema (presenting at first like bottlejaw)
  • Irregular and raised respiratory and heart rates
  • "Grunty" sound in the throat when breathing/eating (likely due to edema)
    (This also showed up in Gert as "mumblebaas" as my brother put it. Mumbled bleating)
  • Frothy white or clear nasal discharge
  • Stiffness of gait
Of course all of these can be caused by any number of bacterial or viral infections, but after three courses of antibiotics and administering two weeks of anti-inflammatories (despite the recommended max being five days), there has been little change in Gertrude's overall condition. It was with the help of a couple vets as well as Gertrude's breeder and another sheepy friend of hers that I was able to come to the conclusion. It's a difficult conclusion to face, too, because if it is her heart there is little chance at recovery. My vet has said that it is possible the WMD affected her diaphragm more than her heart and that if this is the case she will likely strengthen over time, though never completely recovering.

We do have a day here and there where she appears to be 100%. Her edema will clear up, she'll head out to the back pasture to graze and glean windfall apples, and her bleat will sound normal. This doesn't seem to last for more than a day or two. Three at most. And then she deteriorates again... swollen face, not bothering to go out for grass, etc. She has been eating, which is what has kept my hope up, but yesterday there was a change.

I had run out of their previous grain and was switching them to a new bag - the same stuff they'd been eating, but a different batch. When I poured their grain into their feed pans, the two sheep came running - Gertrude even managed a lumbering gait, herself. They stuck their snuffley faces into the pan and immediately Gertrude pulled her face back out. She is just disinterested. It's almost like she was expecting something else and was disappointed. Brighid was confused by Gert's lack of enthusiasm and munched less enthusiastically (I think she likes the tussle for grain).

This morning, even stranger, she was that way for her hay, too. If I throw her some new hay she gets super excited, lumbers over and shoves her face into the green leaves. Within a few seconds though she pulls her head back out and appears to lose interest. I had thought that maybe she had lost interest because she had been stung by a bee while foraging for apples, but it seems like after almost 24 hours she should be comfortable enough to eat again.

I'm kind of stumped for now. As in many cases with failing livestock, it's become a waiting game. I have been out in the barn every few hours to cheer her on as she eats a bit. If I hand feed her the grain or the hay she seems to have renewed interest. She'll munch from my hand for a minute or two and then trundle over to the hay bin and eat there for a minute or two on her own before lying down again. All I can hope is that when I leave the barn each time she continues to eat on and off, and it's not just with my encouragement that she takes food. Through all of this, she has always had appetite. This change makes me think we may be nearing the end...

If she gets much worse, I will have the vet out to help her along on her way. My hesitation is not only that she still has a glint of determination in her eye, but that she is the only companion for my other sheep, Brighid. Brighid lost her mother earlier this year - I don't know how she would take losing her only other companion. I do intend to get at least one other sheep, but I was hoping to wait until November to do that.

So yes. Waiting to see whether the downward spiral continues, or whether Gertrude can get herself turned around... I'll keep you all posted.


  1. It is times like these when I really, really hate farm life.

  2. Here's to the determined glint in her eye. Also, I was irrationally surprised at how big your lamb has gotten.