Triaging common illnesses in small ruminants – should I call the vet tonight, tomorrow or this week?  

Written by: Bria Osborne, OVC 2026

Edited by: Dr. Paisley Canning

It can be a scary time for sheep and goat owners when their sheep or goat is not feeling themselves. It can also be tricky to try and determine what is considered an emergency for your animals and what is considered urgent or non-urgent.  

The process of triaging involves the process of assessing the animal and based on the specific situation, assigning a level or risk or urgency to the situation.  Depending on if the situation is low or high risk, that is going to determine when you call the veterinarian and your next steps to care for your goat/sheep. 

To help you triage your sick goat/sheep on farm, below we have defined emergency, urgent, and non-urgent situations that you might find yourself in as a sheep or goat owner.  


Emergency situations must be dealt with immediately and an emergency call is warranted to your veterinarian to get them out right away.  Emergency situations have the potential to be fatal if not dealt with correctly.  

Emergency situations:

Photo credit: MannaPro 

Figure 1: Above is a goat experiencing bloat. Bloat is an emergency and needs to be tended to right away. 


An urgent situation should still be seen by your vet but usually does not warrant a same day emergency exam. Urgent calls usually are fit in the next day or within the next couple of days. Urgent situations can vary in their urgency, calling your vet and giving a detailed description of the event will help them evaluate the risk your animal is under. On your phone call to your vet, it is important to specify that your animal needs medical attention, if it is eating or drinking, if it has a fever, can it stand, a visual description of any discharge (I.e colour, amount, texture, location, etc.).  

Urgent situations:

  • Diarrhea 
  • Coughing, nasal discharge  
  • Not getting up  
  • Pooping worms  
  • Pale looking animal (pale gums, pale skin, pale conjunctiva around eyes)    
  • Moderate lameness (figure 2) with the animal still willing to put weight on their limb  
  • Swollen joints  
  • Weight loss  
  • Mastitis  
  • Eye issues  

Photo credit: 

Figure 2: Above is an example of a lame sheep. Lameness is painful and can lead to a plethora of other issues.  


Non urgent situations can be handled through the regular booking and appointment process with your vet.  

Non-Urgent situations:

  • Itching
  • Dry skin (see figure 3)
  • Eating less
  • Hoof trim
  • Minor cuts and scraps
  • Lumps and bumps
  • Teeth issues
  • Chronic mastitis cases
  • Pregnancy check
  • Nutritional assessments and body condition scoring
  • Deworming and de-licing
  • Fecal sampling
  • Reduction of mobility
  • Lameness caused by arthritis
  • Chronic lameness

Figure 3: Above is an example of a goat with dry and flakey skin. This is non- urgent but should still be seen by your veterinarian.  

By booking a regular consultation with Upper Thames Mobile Vet, we can access your animals and operation and get you set up with a first aid kit. These first aid kits are able to be tailored to your needs by Dr. Canning. Having a first aid kit on farm can help you deal with non-urgent situations on farm by yourself. Medications and supplies included can also help you get a jump start on urgent and emergency situations while you wait for your vet to arrive. Check out our blog, “First aid kits- a farm necessity” for more information on our first aid kits (

Be sure to contact Dr. Canning if you are unsure about the condition of your animal and what steps you should take. You can contact the clinic at [email protected], or on 

Last updated on August 8th, 2023.