Today, I had my first fatal run-in with the infamous Haemonchus contortus.
After responding to an emergency call for a colic, we were asked to come out to a farm with a down sheep. The sheep had been down for a day and was reluctant to eat or drink. It had separated itself from the herd, which is almost always a bad sign.
Upon arrival, the sheep was down in the middle of the field. With it having had climbed upwards of ninety degrees throughout the day, we were especially concerned about dehydration. Our physical exam findings found that he was tachycardic, tachypneic, and had an extremely low FAMACHA score. From his current state and pale mucous membranes, we concluded that he was extremely anemic and thus the owner chose to euthanize. Luckily, we were given the go-ahead to perform a post-mortem exam on the sheep to try to confirm our suspected diagnosis.
This was my first opportunity to perform a post-mortem to confirm my own tentative diagnosis, which I found quite exciting. It was unfortunate that the sheep had to be euthanized but upon receiving answers as to the cause of this sheep’s illness, we could more adequately address potential herd health issues for the sheep’s owner.
With it being 9 o’clock at night, I went straight for the sheep’s abomasum and as such, I was instantly gratified. Thousands upon thousands of worms wriggled about on the mucosal surface of the sheep’s stomach. My satisfaction of being right was also mixed with quite a bit of disgust at the sight of such a high worm burden. With this finding, we almost had an instant confirmation of our diagnosis of a Haemonchus contortus infection.
Now that we have the answer to this sheep’s sudden illness, we can more appropriately discuss parasite management with this owner who was not very familiar with the different sheep parasites. Through the death of one, we are now able to work diligently to protect the rest of the herd.