Acetonaemia (or ketosis) in cows
  • Acetonaemia in cows is fairly common, especially in high-producing cows in early lactation.
  • The best cows are most at risk.
  • The disease develops when milk production demands more of the cow’s energy resources than can be met by her intake, in other words, when she is not getting enough to eat!
  • The signs include dullness, not eating, staggering or aimless wandering, twitching of the face and ears, blindness, recumbency, coma and death within a few days.
  • Sometimes the only signs are a drop in milk production and weight loss.
Sleepy sickness (or pregnancy toxaemia or twin lamb disease) in ewes
  • In ewes, acetonaemia is called sleepy sickness or pregnancy toxaemia or twin lamb disease.
  • Sleepy sickness is the most common metabolic disease in sheep.
  • It occurs in the weeks before lambing.
  • Ewes carrying two or more lambs are especially at risk, and so too are very thin or very fat ewes.
  • The main causes are underfeeding or a sudden check in food intake in the last 6 weeks of pregnancy.
  • It can be brought on by inadequate shelter in bad weather when food intake is reduced but feed requirement is increased.
  • Unlike the other metabolic diseases, the onset of sleepy sickness is not usually sudden.
  • The signs include slowness, lethargy, not eating, staggering or aimless wandering, twitching of the face and ears, and blindness leading to recumbency, usually with the head up.
  • Coma and death can follow in 2 to 7 days.
  • Ketones are excreted in the urine and in the breath.
  • Ketones have a characteristic sweet smell (nail varnish remover!) which about 50% of people can detect around affected animals.
  • The blood concentrations of ketones rise before signs develop, so blood tests can be used by your vet to predict problems.
  •  The key to prevention is good feeding.
  •  Cows and ewes should have an increasing level of feed leading up to birth.
  •  Concentrate feed may be necessary.
  • Acetonaemia in animals that have been underfed for some time is generally very difficult to treat because of liver damage.
  • There are various energy supplements some with electrolytes that can be given by mouth, and they can be helpful if given very early in the course of the disease.