This page provides useful information relating to Sheep Scab including clinical signs, how the disease is spread and advice on preventing the spread of the disease. Current policy is that a restriction will be placed on any reporting flock.

What is Sheep Scab?

Sheep scab is a highly contagious parasitic disease of sheep

Sheep Scab is notifiable in NI under the Sheep Scab (Northern Ireland) Order 1970 and any suspicious signs should be reported to the local DAERA Direct regional office

Sheep scab only affects sheep. Humans aren’t affected.

Sheep scab is an intensely pruritic, exudative, allergic reaction to the Psoroptes ovis mites which live on the skin surface, causing intense irritation and breakdown of the animal’s skin.

What are the clinical signs?

Clinical signs include severe itching and scratching, biting at flanks, restlessness, loss of wool, exudative and pruritic skin lesions, skin covered in scabs and thickened skin, skin excoriation and secondary skin infections, severe pain, weight loss (which can be severe), low birth weights and higher perinatal mortality rates in lambs born to affected ewes.

You should look out for sheep:

  • rubbing and scratching against fence posts
  • nibbling and biting at their fleeces
  • dirty areas of fleece from scratching hair, especially behind the shoulder
  • clean areas of fleece, where sheep have nibbled
  • broken areas of fleece on the sides of sheep from biting and scratching

Affected sheep can be extremely sensitive to being touched. They may respond by nibbling.

Affected sheep may also become dull and depressed and stand apart from the rest of the flock.

Sheep scab causes economic losses due to the increase in feed costs necessary to maintain body conditions in affected sheep, lack of appetite causing weight loss, loss in quality of hides, condemnation of carcasses in meat plants, low birth weights and higher perinatal mortality rates (in lambs born to affected ewes) and the cost of treatment. 

However, the pain involved with the exudative, pruritic dermatitis is severe and lack of effective and appropriate treatment will severely compromise the welfare of the affected sheep and causes unnecessary suffering.

Other skin conditions in sheep including lice infestation and bacterial and fly strike dermatitis cause similar symptoms to sheep scab. You should seek advice from a vet as soon as possible

How is Sheep Scab spread?

Sheep scab is highly contagious and spread occurs through transfer of mites from infected sheep/carrier sheep to sheep free of Psoroptes ovis mites.  It can also occur by transfer of mites present in contaminated wool, equipment, fences, sheds, fields etc.

Mites can also be spread on the clothing and equipment of sheep handlers.

Prevention of Sheep Scab

Preventing sheep scab

You should practise strict biosecurity on your premises.

If you suspect sheep scab

Prompt treatment is required. Contact your vet for advice.

Report it to your local DAERA Direct regional office immediately

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