Pulpy Kidney – are your stock at risk?

Thursday, May 09, 2024

Stock Journal Article - April 2024

Authors: Dr Colin Trengove, Pro Ag Consulting and Deb Scammell, Talking Livestock

 Pulpy Kidney or Enterotoxaemia is the most common cause of sudden death in young sheep and cattle in southern Australia. It is referred to as pulpy kidney because the toxin released by this bacterial infection causes the body to rapidly decompose leading to various organs including the kidneys appearing “pulpy” on post-mortem. 


Pulpy kidney occurs when stock have a sudden diet change; including introducing ewes suddenly to a high energy containment ration, lambs going onto a feedlot ration or a sudden introduction to higher quality pasture. It can also occur after fasting when stock are reintroduced to feed, during adverse weather or procedures that disrupt normal eating. 

Pulpy kidney is caused by an overgrowth of a specific clostridial bacteria. This bacteria is naturally present in a sheep’s gut as part of normal gut flora. The bacteria produces a toxin, which doesn’t cause a problem at low levels. During a sudden feed change there is rapid multiplication of the bacteria and associated deadly toxin which causes significant damage to multiple body organs. All sheep are at risk, especially if young and unvaccinated. Death can follow within hours of infection developing in the gut, so animals are usually found dead without warning. They may be seen standing alone with their back arched, head down, and legs spread indicating a painful abdomen. Upon death there are no signs of struggle because death is rapid, but a bloated belly with blue skin and blood-stained froth at the nostrils due to panting before death and toxin damage to blood vessels may be observed. 


There is no reliable treatment due to the short time between infection and death. High doses of penicillin can be attempted in valuable animals, but it is usually too little too late. 


Vaccination is cheap prevention compared to losing livestock. 


The first vaccination is recommended at marking with a booster recommended 4 – 6 weeks later at weaning. Any newly purchased stock with an unknown vaccination status will also need an initial vaccine with a boost 4 – 6 weeks later. A lot of the sheep vaccines include protection against pulpy kidney. Clostridial vaccines can be found in 3 in 1, 5 in 1, 6 in 1 or 7 in 1. The difference between these is the other diseases they provide protection against. 


If animals are at high risk of pulpy kidney, such as during substantial diet changes or high intake of lush feed or grain, boosters are advised every three months to provide protection against this deadly disease.