With anecdotal evidence of an increase in ‘joint-ill’, a disease affecting the joints of young lambs, investigators from Scotland’s Rural College are offering free post-mortem tests to sheep farmers and their vets who suspect lambs are infected.
Joint-ill, or septic arthritis affects the joints of new-born lambs and causes painful swelling. Those infected with the bacterial disease fail to thrive and, in the worst cases, up to 20% of the farm’s lamb crop can die.
“Following the 2016 lambing season, we had anecdotal reports that there had been a greater than usual number of outbreaks with high casualty rates and a poor response to treatments,” said specialist vet, Heather Stevenson, of the college’s SAC Consulting Veterinary Services. 
“We decide to collect up-to-date information from across the country about which pathogens are responsible for outbreaks and the most appropriate antibiotic to treat them with.”
As an easily recognised disease, farmers or their vets do not normally submit cases to any of the eight Veterinary Disease Surveillance Centres that SAC Consulting runs on behalf of Scottish Government. However, Ms Stevenson believes the offer of free tests will help college vets gather enough evidence for a proper survey and analysis during the 2017 lambing season.
“Many different bacteria may be associated with septic arthritis although historically one in particular, streptococcus dysgalactiae, has been most common. It has been normal practice to use preventative antibiotic treatments but with increasing concerns about anti-microbial resistance, that approach is no longer acceptable and treatments must be more targeted.”
The researchers want to examine lambs from between 50 to 80 flocks, with one to three lambs submitted per flock – lambs should be less than four weeks old. The offer, on a first come first serve basis is open to Scottish flocks and any English flocks close enough to the Veterinary Centres in Dumfries and St Boswells. Arrangements can also be made to handle samples from flocks remote from any of the eight Scottish vet labs.