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Mastitis in sheep

Effective treatment of mastitis depends on a rapid response which is essential to save the life of the ewe, though it is still unlikely to save udder function. The ewe should be brought in and penned individually so that good care can be given to both her and her lambs, which will need supplementary feeding. She needs access to plenty of clean water and may need to be tempted to eat. Veterinary advice should be sought and usually their recommended treatment is an injectable antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory drug.

What influences their choice of a suitable antibiotic?
  • Usual bacteria: Staphylococcus aureus or Mannheimia haemolytica
  • Sites of infection – within the milk, within udder tissue & within the inflammatory cells – ideally we need the antibiotic to reach each of these locations and remain at high enough levels to achieve a cure.

Tilmicosin (eg. Micotil) is still the drug of choice considering both anecdotal and published reports. It is specifically licensed for ewe mastitis and highly effective because it has good activity particularly within udder tissue and against the bacteria that have accumulated within inflammatory cells. Its major drawback is that it can only be given by a vet though some farmers consider it worth this extra expense for a valuable ewe.

Oxytetracycline (eg. Oxytetrin, Alamycin) or amoxycillin (eg. Amoxypen, Betamox) are effective licensed antibiotics that may be long-acting which means it is not necessary to treat every day, though of course the ewe should be checked regularly.

Some vets may prescribe drugs that are not licensed for sheep. Some of these, such as amoxicillin with clavulanic acid (Synulox, Noroclav) or tylosin (Tylan), can be very effective and are licensed for cattle mastitis. They need to be given daily but this can be useful as it encourages regular attention to the sick ewe. There is no evidence to suggest the effectiveness of any of the newer macrolide antibiotics which are licensed specifically for cattle pneumonia and are very expensive.

Anti-inflammatory Drugs

These drugs have pain-killing properties, and anti-endotoxic effects which mean that they reduce the levels of toxins produced by mastitis bacteria. There are no anti-inflammatory drugs licensed for sheep so vets are allowed to prescribe cattle drugs under the cascade system. There are a number of trade names and your vet will advise. Some (eg Finadyne or Flunixin) need daily injections for up to three days whereas for some others (eg Metacam) one jab will last for three days.

Antibiotic Tubes

Generally a ewe is pretty sick with mastitis which is why vets recommend using injectable drugs. However, some vets may also prescribe antibiotic tubes to be injected into the teat. If these are to be used then it is essential that very strict hygiene is adhered to. The tube should not be inserted into the teat but only aligned with the teat end before injection.

Fiona Lovatt