CATTLE and sheep are regularly submitted for postmortem examination with a history of sudden death. One of the differential diagnoses considered is hypomagnesaemia – a rare, but significant, cause of death in ruminants. The average annual disease rate for hypomagnesaemia in British dairy herds has been reported to be 0.5 per cent, with most herds having no problems but some farms having up to 10 per cent of the herd affected. Clinical signs may be acute or chronic, and there are various precipitating causes. This article reviews the factors that influence the metabolism of magnesium in ruminants and hence predispose them to hypomagnesaemia. It also describes some diagnostic tests, including blood, urine and ocular fluid sampling, that are essential to confirm suspected cases, as there are no gross postmortem findings specific for the condition. In addition, it briefly considers a number of methods that may be used to prevent clinical disease, including pasture treatments.
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