DIAGNOSING ILLNESSES IN GOATS
So, you've got a sick goat, but you don't know what is wrong with it. This article will address the steps to take to diagnose the problem. Details of treatment will not be covered. The writer's website has an Articles page that details many goat illnesses and how to treat them. Once the problem has been diagnosed, go there for specific treatment information.
Obvious conditions exist that tell the producer that a goat needs help. These include cuts, bruises, broken horns or bones, bite or puncture wounds, swelling of body parts, recumbancy (off its feet, down and can't or won't get up), limping or dragging of legs, staggering, circling, and a myriad of other acutely obvious situations which scream out that there is a problem.
Several not-so-obvious conditions may exist which will tell an alert producer that the goat needs help. If the goat is staying away from the herd, remaining by itself and/or not eating or drinking (and it is not a doe getting ready to kid), then the goat likely has something wrong with it. A turned-down tailweb in times of good weather is also an indicator that something is probably wrong. (Healthy goats turn their tail webs down in cold and/or windy weather.) Does in the process of kidding may require special assistance.
By and large, goats as a species are not hearty animals; they can adapt to new surroundings over a period of time, but abrupt changes cause health problems and sometimes death. Goats have very specialized (i.e. 'sensitive') rumens that require high-quality (not high protein or high calorie) food intake. Notice that goats eat from the top down when foraging; that is where they find tender vegetation which is most palatable to them. Goats are not the Saturday-morning cartoon characters who eat tin cans.
Goats are big-time herd animals; they greatly dislike being alone. Try putting a goat by itself and see what happens. Goats are low on the food chain and, other than horns, they have few natural defenses. Because they are sprinters and not long-distance runners, they cannot outrun predators. Staying with the herd means safety in numbers.
A goat alone is usually a goat in trouble. Here is what to do:
Examine the goat from head to toe for obvious problems. Check for dehydration, runny or ulcerated eyes, nasal discharges, bloated body barrel, impacted cud , broken or bad or missing or worn-out teeth, obstructions in the mouth, hot or hard udder (if the doe is lactating), vaginal or anal secretions, strange smells coming from the mouth or the rectum/vaginal areas, retained placenta (if the doe has just kidded), foreign objects in or between the hooves, ripped or torn udder, labored breathing, difficulty in urinating or defecating, vaginal or anal prolapses, skin rashes and itches or other irritations, loss of hair or change in hair coloration, shivering, hunched back, teeth grinding, out-of-the-ordinary vocal sounds, dragging legs, white lining of the tissue in the lower eye socket, dehydration, diarrhea.
If the doe is pregnant, smell her urine; sweet smelling urine is an indication of ketosis. Check each newborn kid for a cleft palate, fully-formed hooves, functional rectal and vaginal openings, descended testicles, and intact penile shaft. Make sure all the 'parts' appear intact and present on newborn female and male kids.
Ask yourself if you've made any grain, hay, or mineral changes in the goat's diet, or if other management changes have occurred . . . a change in pasturage, for example. If the sick goat is new to your facility, there is an excellent probability that this is the cause of the illness. Changes in climate, location, feed, and herd mates dramatically affect goats. Under the best of conditions, goats do not 'travel' well.
Do not run for the antibiotics. Over-use and incorrect usage of antibiotics has caused many of these products to become ineffective when they are really needed. Antibiotic usage is indicated when fever and/or inflammation is present.
The most important step: Take the goat's rectal temperature. Normal body temperature for a goat is 101.5*F to 103.5* F. If the goat has been running or is out in direct sunlight on a hot day, allow one degree higher to account for that fact. If you've not figured out the precise problem yet, the goat's rectal temperature will tell you what to do next.
Hope against hope that the goat has fever rather than sub-normal body temperature. In most cases, fever is easier to treat. Fever will make a goat go off-feed. The producer must determine what is causing the fever. If the goat has fever or inflammation (from a wound, for instance), an antibiotic as well as an anti-inflammatory medication is in order. Example: Interstitial pneumonia is a quick killer of both adults and kids, the only symptom for which is rapid-onset high fever, so immediate antibiotic therapy is crucial.
Kids and pregnant does are medicated differently from adults in some instances; determine the problem, then find the solution on this author's website, remembering that there are specific medications to be used for respiratory, ruminal, injury, and infectious disease situations. No one medication is applicable to all situations. An article entitled Goat Medications and How to Use Them appears on this writer's Articles page at: http://www.tennesseemeatgoats.com.
If the goat has sub-normal body temperature, this is a 'red flag' to act quickly. In this writer's opinion, most of the low-body temperature problems occurring in goats (assuming that the goat is not already dying) are attributable to rumen trouble. And too much of that sadly falls on the doorstep of producers who heavily manage their herds and feed them improperly . . . over-feeding grains, under-feeding grass hay, providing improper levels of nutrition, or not furnishing appropriate loose minerals that have been specially formulated for goats.
A newborn or very young kid with sub-normal body temperature is a critically-ill goat. The producer has no time to waste. A shivering or hunched-up kid is starving and dehydrated. A kid dragging its hind legs is probably selenium-deficient. Severe diarrhea and accompanying listlessness in a very young kid may be an indication of an eColi infection; eColi is a huge killer of pre-ruminating kids. A kid who is circling and has a rigid neck either has goat polio or possibly tetanus. Tetanus kills quickly, while goat polio runs a longer course. Diarrhea can be a sign of many things, including heavy worm load and/or cocciciosis. Bottom line, though, is that most of these problems are rumen-related. Milk of Magnesia, ReSorb or equivalent electrolytes, Lactated Ringers, Banamine . . . all of these products are useful in such circumstances.
Adult-goat rumen problems include listeriosis, ruminal acidosis, bloat, and enterotoxemia (overeating disease) . . . to name a few. Articles detailing diagnosis and treatment of all of these conditions can be found on this writer's website's Articles page
Performing your own fecals on a random weekly basis will prove to be quite helpful in managing the health of your herd. Weekly fecal evaluation is very important when young kids are on the ground. Coccidiosis, which usually but not always manifests itself with bad diarrhea, is a quick killer of young kids.
Keep essential emergency medications and supplies on hand and within easy reach. Health crises too often occur when stores are not open. Illnesses involving toxic reactions kill the goat quickly, leaving no time to go get the needed products (assuming that they are available locally, which often is not the case). Refer to this writer's article entitled Supplies Every Goat Rancher Needs on the Articles page. These supplies are indeed a significant initial investment of money, but losing a quality goat (and possibly her unborn kids) is a considerable expense, too.
Observe your goats carefully. Learn each animal's unique behavioral and personality patterns. They are there for you to see, if you pay attention. Think like a goat, and you will be able to see many problems in the making . . . well before they become life-threatening.
Important! Please Read This Notice!
All information provided in these articles is based either on personal experience or information provided by others whose treatments and practices have been discussed fully with a vet for accuracy and effectiveness before passing them on to readers.
In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Suzanne Gasparotto is not a veterinarian.Neither tennesseemeatgoats.com nor any of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.
The author, Suzanne Gasparotto, hereby grants to local goat publications and club newsletters, permission to reprint articles published on the Onion Creek Ranch website under these conditions: THE ARTICLE MUST BE REPRODUCED IN ITS ENTIRETY AND THE AUTHOR'S NAME, ADDRESS, AND CONTACT INFORMATION MUST BE INCLUDED AT THE BEGINNING OF THE REPRINT. We would appreciate notification from any clubs or publications when the articles are used. (A copy of the newsletter or publication would also be a welcome addition to our growing library of goat related information!)
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