Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Senior Sheep – Caring for the Ovine Oldies at PVAS

By Chris R.


In the past weeks we have said goodbye to two senior sheep – Molly and Rambo – who were also the best of friends. Both were elderly sheep in their mid-teens and both had been receiving extra attention as they grew older. Molly had a skin cancer on her nose which was treated for over a year, but in its later stages had begun to impact on her breathing. Rambo had declined in health since Molly’s passing and was suffering arthritis and weight loss. As difficult as it can be, the reality of Sanctuary life is also Sanctuary death. The best case scenario is that all the animals in our care will eventually pass away due to age related issues, loved and comfortable. While this is terribly sad for the human helpers in the Valley, it is also a great privilege to care for the residents in their autumn years.  


As our older ovine residents begin to encounter mobility issues, they will often come to live closer to the house, residing in a hospital pen with a friend. While all animals like to have company, infirm animals can often be bullied, especially at meal times. Removing meal time competition is a great relief for aging individuals, who can sit and nibble at their leisure, free from the exuberance of their younger rescued friends. Choice of hospital friend is therefore an important consideration, with a friendly yet relatively quiet companion essential.  

The health care of our senior sheep is under the watchful eye of our Sanctuary veterinarians. Quality of life is the priority and regular vet checks are essential to ensure senior residents are comfortable and still enjoying their earthly days. Pain relief medication is used when required, along with vitamin B supplementation.  


Easy to chew foods such as chaff and weetbix are enjoyed, especially if teeth are missing, and fresh, easily accessible water essential. On very hot days, older animals are settled indoors under the air conditioning, giving relief from the heat and flies so they can rest. Again a companion is essential, as being flock animals, most sheep stress when alone.  


As older animals tend to rest much of the day, a bedding of fresh straw is provided throughout their pen, reducing the incidence of pressure sores and keeping them dry and clean. Hooves are checked and trimmed as needed. These readily grow long if animals are not walking very far. On cool days, our older friends may have day trips to close by paddocks to stretch their legs and catch up with flock mates, before returning to the comfort of the hospital for supper.  

Molly undergoing skin cancer treatment

The natural lifespan of sheep is ten to twelve years, but they can live much longer with veterinary support and extra  care. We work hard to help our residents have a long and happy life in the Valley.


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