General description 

  • Jaundice is the yellowing of body tissues like gums and conjunctiva due to liver malfunction or excessive breakdown of red blood cells, leading to an accumulation of bile. 
  • Liver malfunction can be caused by a variety of toxic plants. 
  • Cirrhosis is the term used when liver cells are severely damaged and replaced by scar tissue.  
  • On farm liver damage can lead to jaundice and cirrhosis, which results in reduced growth rate/weight loss, deathand costs due to management/treatment.  
  • Jaundiced animals can be prone to sunburn. 
  • At the abattoir the carcase or liver may be condemned.  


  • Various toxins cause liver damage resulting in jaundice and/or cirrhosis.
  • Mycotoxins produced by fungus and commonly found in lupins (Lupinosis) and spoiled or mouldy feed (Aflatoxicosis). 
  • A variety of toxic plants (e.g. Lantana, St John’s Wort) can cause liver damage, jaundice and light sensitivity. 
  • Mycoplama ovis (formerly Eperythrozoon ovis), an infectious bacterium affecting the red blood cells that can cause carrier animals to relapse under stress. 
  • Copper toxicity can occur due to stresses like poor nutrition, yarding, transport and bad weather.  

Clinical signs 

  • Heliotrope toxicity causes death (weeks to years after toxin ingestion), depression and jaundice for 1-2 days before death.  
  • Lupinosis causes reduced appetite, condition loss, disorientation, depression, lethargy, stiff gait/hunched back, jaundice and death within 3 days. 
  • Copper toxicity causes pale gums, jaundicelethargy and death in 3-5 days.  
  • Mycoplasma ovis causes ill thrift, pale gums, jaundice and death (especially after a stressful event). 
  • Photosensitive animals develop crusty lesions on less well-covered parts of the body, like to ears, face and nose. 


  • Veterinarians assist in diagnosis and management.  


  • Immediately remove animals from the source of toxicity.  
  • Provide animals with access to shade if showing signs of photosensitisation. 
  • Feed oats and cereal hay and prevent access to green pick for 6 weeks to prevent photosensitisation.  
  • Minimise stress and avoid yarding.  


  • Reduce bacterial infections by using sharp marking equipment, disinfected regularly by a chlorhexidine-based disinfectant e.g. Hibitane. 
  • Prevent weed introduction, use seeds and grain from known uninfested sources, maintain pasturesuse weed deterrents and provide hay in weedy paddocks 
  • Lupinosis can be prevented by limiting and managing lupin stubbles and avoiding grazing heavily pregnant ewes or weaners on lupin stubble.  

Learn more 

Jaundice and Cirrhosis Factsheet

Prime Fact 449 Photosensitisation in Stock

Prime Fact 449 Eperythrozoonosis in Sheep

Prime Fact 1308 Reducing the risk of lupinosis and the incidence of phomopsis