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A Guide on Treating Liver Fluke in Sheep.

liver fluke in sheep


How To Combat Liver Fluke Disease in Sheep

How to diagnose and treat liver fluke in Sheep.


Last week we looked at liver fluke in cattle, today we focus on the disease in sheep. 


Sheep are prone to acute and subacute disease in the autumn and early winter due to large numbers of migrating immature stages. Signs include pale membranes, abdominal pain, and sudden deaths. Subacute disease leads to rapid weight loss, bottle jaw oedema, anaemia and deaths.


In areas where pasture contamination is lower or summer/autumn management reduces exposure, sheep may not show early signs but instead develop the more chronic form of the disease. More commonly, economic, subclinical losses, causing a reduction in scanning % and reduced lambing performance are much more significant.   


Diagnosis and monitoring 

Post-mortem of any deaths from August onwards is often the easiest and most economical method to confirm fluke presence. If no autumn deaths occur due to lower pasture levels or good management, other methods are required to monitor levels. Individual blood samples can be used but are costly. 


From December onward, pooled faecal egg counts give a good indication and can also identify if rumen fluke are present on the farm. Contact your vet for details of sample size. The ELISA test (Enzyme-linked Immonosorbent Assay) is useful from November onwards to aid winter treatment. Abattoir records are hugely under-utilised and provide accurate prevalence levels. Farms that do not send direct to slaughter should encourage buyers to share this information. 



Fluke treatments should be based on farm/seasonal risk and outlined as part of a parasite control strategy, in individual farm health plans. Triclabendazole is the drug of choice for late summer/autumn treatment. Adopting the SCOPS principles, combination fluke/wormers should only be used if faecal egg counts/poor body condition, demonstrate the need for roundworm treatment.


On high risk pastures, as there is no residual activity, autumn Triclabendazole treatments may need to be repeated after 3-4 weeks to prevent acute disease. For lower risk pastures, ewe treatment may be restricted to a single pre-tupping treatment. Rotation of flukicides is then advised, depending on weather conditions, from November onwards. Alternative specific flukicides include closantel (Flukiver), nitroxynil (Trodax) and oxyclozanide (Zanil). In high risk areas, treatment may be required every 10 weeks over winter to reduce pasture contamination for the following season. In lower risk areas winter treatment frequency should be based on diagnostic tests. 




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