General description
  • Nephritis is a term used to describe damaged kidneys seen at the abattoir. 
  • Kidney damage may be active or old and localised or generalised; nephritis is a general term for kidney inflammation.
  • Prolonged damage causes kidneys to be shrunken, irregular and scarred. Recent damage causes swollen, discoloured or spotty kidneys (also referred to as ‘white spotted kidney’).  
  • Long-term, nephritis reduces growth rate/weight loss, and this can lead to sudden death or chronic ill-health and subsequent death (weeks to months).  
  • Kidneys are condemned at the abattoir depending on the extent and spread of damage.   
  • Kidney damage may follow infections or toxin exposure. Toxins may come from poisonous plants or chemical exposures icluding some drenches.
  • Infections can come from wounds or rumenitis or direct infections of the kidney (e.g. leptospirosis)
  • Toxins typically derive from poisonous plant exposure e.g. soursobs; or from chemical exposure (e.g. some antibiotics, fertilisers, heavy metals etc.). 
Clinical signs
  • Some animals may be mildly affected and show no signs of illness. 
  • Animals with chronic kidney damage may suffer from ill-thrift, pale gums, increased urination and sporadic deaths. 
  • Sheep can appear normal with 25% (or more) kidney function; disease is only seen when kidneys become severely degraded. 
  • Significant damage leads to decreased production, growth and/or death. Affected animals are often unresponsive to treatment.
  • Finding the cause of the nephritis is the first step. This may require investigation by a veterinarian.  
  • Will vary depending on the cause and if it is sudden or chronic.  
  • Stock should immediately but slowly, be moved from known toxic areas.  
  • Use sharp and clean marking equipment disinfected regularly, with a chlorhexidine-based disinfectant e.g. Hibitane.  
  • Avoid wet conditions, overcrowding, prolonged holding and unnecessary separation of lambs and ewes. 
  • Choose a balanced ration introduced over 2 or more weeks.   
  • Prevent weeds by quarantining new sheep for 7 days and using weed deterrents and provide adequate hay in weedy paddocks.  
  • Measure drench and antibiotic dosage rates accurately and use faecal egg counts to determine if drenching is required. 
  • Consider vaccination against leptospirosis.
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