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Home / Research

Beware of diseases that come with rains

A herder drives out hundreds of goats from Kiamaiko livestock market in Nairobi on December 31, 2021. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Dear Daktari, I keep goats and sheep though not many. My neighbour has about a 100 sheep and goats. Our county was among those affected by drought. Luckily it has started raining and this made us happy because our animals were starving. Sadly, many farmers who had large stocks of sheep and goats have lost quite a number. Most of them die at night following heavy rains while others were swept away by floods. I am a worried farmer. Is there an outbreak of another disease? [Duncan Mwaluma, Taita Taveta County]

Thanks Mr Mwaluma for your question. It is unfortunate that our farmers are losing their small stock with the arrival of the rains.

This especially so coming after prolonged drought that had affected 23 Arid and Semi-Arid (Asal) counties leading to deaths of cattle.

This is bad because farmers in the Asals have already lost hundreds of cows to the drought due to inadequate pastures and waters. 

For those swept away by the floods, the likely cause is drowning fanned by the ill health due to prolonged drought stress.

The drowning and deaths are also being reported in other areas that have suffered drought in the past, this therefore points to an infectious cause.

I have tried to reach out to vets in the affected areas but is yet to get any laboratory or post mortem report that points to the exact cause of these deaths. That being the case, I can only give a tentative diagnosis.

Acute respiratory condition?

Pneumonia which is the infection of the lung tissue could be the probable cause of these deaths.

Pneumonia is common in all ages of shoats and can cause massive deaths within a short time because they affect a vital system of the body.

When lungs are affected death can easily result. Pneumonia can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites.

However, for these organisms to cause an infection, the animals must be undergoing some form of stress.

Hunger, heat and cold stress triggers for pneumonia

Heat, dust and scarcity of feeds have been a big source of stress to the shoats in this drought season.

This in turn lead to weak animals with low immunity. Most affected farmers had large herds further worsening the situation by introducing another stress – crowding and poor ventilation.

This state of affairs explains why the animals in Asal regions easily come down with pneumonia with the sudden cold weather and rains hence the deaths.

Can anything be done?

Treatment is possible with an early diagnosis. However, these diseases can be prevented through reduction of stressors and this involves proper housing and feeding during drought and rains.

The shelters should be spacious, well-ventilated and clean. Don’t mix different age groups and control external and internal parasites through spraying and deworming respectively. Isolate and call a vet to treat infected shoats, enforce biosecurity measures to prevent the introduction of infections into your herd.

-Dr Othieno is a veterinary surgeon and head of communications at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Kenya. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of FAO

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