Sheep and goats use their vision to navigate their surroundings, forage for food, and interact with their environments, but certain ocular conditions can impact their sight and affect their overall quality of life. Our Veterinary Vision Center team is committed to preserving sight in all species, and we explain some ocular conditions that can affect sheep and goats.

Contagious keratoconjunctivitis in sheep and goats

Contagious keratoconjunctivitis (i.e., pinkeye) is an infectious bacterial disease. The condition is seen most commonly in the summer in young sheep and goats but can occur at any time and affect animals at any age. Pathogens most often associated with pinkeye in sheep and goats include Chlamydia psittaci ovis and Mycoplasma conjunctivae. Other bacteria may cause secondary infection in compromised eyes. 

Pinkeye is highly contagious and typically spreads rapidly unless animals are immune. Predisposing factors include:

  • Overcrowding
  • Hot, dry, dusty conditions
  • Flies
  • Feed with grass seeds, chaff, or fibrous stems that can enter the eye
  • Stressors such as excessive handling, undernutrition, and overheating

Signs include bloodshot eyes, eye discharge that commonly stains the face, and excessive blinking or leaving the eye closed. Treatment typically involves topical eye ointments or systemic, long-acting injectable antibiotics. No vaccine is available for pinkeye in sheep and goats, but management strategies, such as isolating new livestock for at least 30 days and controlling dust and flies, can help reduce a herd’s risk.

Entropion in sheep and goats

Entropion refers to an inward rolling of the lower eyelid where the eyelashes contact the cornea and cause severe irritation and ulceration that can lead to blindness, if not corrected. This hereditary condition is most commonly observed in newborn lambs and kids, but also in dehydrated or emaciated animals. Entropion can affect sheep and goats in one or both eyes. 

Entropion signs include squinting, tearing, and discolored wool or hair below the eye caused by ocular discharge. The cornea may also appear cloudy because of excessive inflammation. If corneal ulcers develop, blood vessels may grow across the cornea. 

In mild cases, manually rolling the eyelid outward several times during the first day of life can correct the problem, but in more extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to keep the eyelid in its normal position and prevent corneal damage. All newborn lambs and kids should be checked for entropion and the condition corrected as soon as possible. Entropion is hereditary and affected animals should not be kept for breeding.

Corneal trauma and foreign bodies in sheep and goats

Foreign bodies, such as grass awns, thorns, chaff, or fibrous stems, can become lodged in a sheep or goat’s eye, leading to corneal abrasions, ulceration, and infections. Animals at highest risk include those on tall grass pasture and sheep and goats eating from large, unrolled round bales. 

Signs include a partially or completely closed eye, excessive tearing, and eye swelling. Foreign bodies in the eye are usually located under the lower eyelid, but the entire eye must be examined to ensure no foreign substances are missed. This typically requires good physical restraint, sedation, a topical anesthetic, and a good light source. Treatment involves removing the foreign body, treating the damaged cornea with topical ointments, and in some cases, injecting a systemic antibiotic. 

Cataracts in sheep and goats

Sheep and goats can develop dense cataracts affecting the lens of one or both eyes. Affected animals don’t seem to feel ocular pain, but their vision is severely impaired. No treatment is available, but if left in a familiar environment with their herd mates, these animals typically do well. 

If your sheep or goat shows ocular pain signs or abnormalities, contact our Veterinary Vision Center team, so we can evaluate their condition and develop an appropriate treatment plan.