GOAT POLIO OR LISTERIOSIS?
Goat Polio (Polioencephalomalacia) is a metabolic disease with symptoms that often mimic or overlap those of the brain-stem disease Listeriosis (Listeria monocytogenes). In most cases, both of these diseases are seen in goats raised under intensive management conditions. Improper feeding, particularly feeding too much grain and too little roughage (hay and forage) is a significant factor in both diseases. Producers pushing the animal to gain weight too fast can induce these potentially fatal diseases in their goats. Sudden changes in feed can also cause the onset of these diseases.
Polioencephalomalacia (also known as Cerebrocortical Necrosis) is basically thiamine (Vitamin B 1) deficiency. Any change in the rumen's environment that suppresses normal bacterial activity can interfere with thiamine production. Too much grain decreases the pH of the rumen, predisposing the animal to Goat Polio. Glucose cannot be metabolized without thiamine. If thiamine is either not present or exists in an altered form (thiaminase), then brain cells die and severe neurological symptoms appear.
Causes of thiamine deficiency include feeding moldy hay or grain, using amprollium which is a thiamine inhibitor (brand name CoRid) when treating coccodiosis, feeding molasses-based grains which are prone to mold (horse & mule feeds), eating some species of ferns, sudden changes in diet, the dietary stress of weaning, and reactions to the de-wormers thiabendazole and levamisole. Each of these conditions can suppress Vitamin B1 production. The usage of antibiotics destroys flora in the rumen and can cause thiamine deficiency. It is important to repopulate the gut with live bacteria after using antibiotics or diarrhea (scour) medications.
Goat Polio generally occurs in weanlings and very young goats, while Listeriosis most frequently affects adult goats. An increase in Goat Polio occurs in North America during winter when the availability of forage and quality hay is low and producers start feeding increased amounts of grain or expect goats to survive on very poor pasture.
Symptoms of Polioencephalomalacia can be any combination of or all of the following: excitability, "stargazing," uncoordinated staggering and/or weaving (ataxia), circling, diarrhea, muscle tremors, and blindness. Initial symptoms can look like Entertoxemia (overeating disease). There is a component of "overeating" involved in that the rumen flora has been compromised. As the disease progresses, convulsions and high fever occur, and if untreated, the goat generally dies within 24-72 hours. Diagnosis is available via laboratory tests, but the producer does not have the luxury of the time that such tests take.
Thiamine is the only effective therapy, and treatment can result in improvement within a few hours if the disease is caught early enough. Thiamine is an inexpensive veterinary prescription. Producers should always keep thiamine on hand; the most commonly available strength is 100 mg/ml. Dosage is based on the goat's weight (4-1/2 cc per 100 pounds liveweight for 100 mg/ml thiamine) and must be given every six hours on a 24-hour cycle until all symptoms have disappeared completely to avoid relapse. Thiamine, like all B vitamins, is water soluable, so the goat eliminates daily what it doesn't utilize in the rumen. A sick goat's rumen doesn't produce B vitamins, hence the importance of adding them to the goat each day until it gets well. Initially thiamine should be given IM (into the muscle) but can be given SQ (subcutaneously) or even orally after several days of treatment. Some thiamine comes in 500 mg/ml strength, making the required dosage 1 cc per 100 pounds bodyweight. If thiamine is unavailable but the producer has injectable multiple B vitamins, check the label for how much thiamine (Vitamin B1) is present. Fortified Vitamin B Complex contains 100 mg/ml of thiamine, so the 4-1/2 cc per 100 pounds bodyweight dosage is appropriate. Injectable multiple B vitamins containing only 25mg/ml of thiamine require four times the 100mg/ml dosage (18-1/2 cc) per 100 pounds bodyweight, so the producer can quickly see the importance of obtaining the proper strength of injectable B vitamins. The key to overcoming Goat Polio is early diagnosis and treatment. Complete recovery is possible under such circumstances.
Since symptoms of Goat Polio can easily look like Listeriosis, this writer recommends that procaine pencillin also be used. Better to cover both possible illnesses with appropriate treatments when symptoms are so similar than risk the goat's dying. Administer high doses of procaine penicillin (300,000 International Unit strength) every six hours on a 24-hour basis until all symptoms have disappeared and another 24 hours have passed. Higher-than-normal dosage of procaine penicillin is needed to cross the blood brain barrier to put sufficient amounts of the antibiotic into the tissue of the goat's central nervous system. A chart of dosage by bodyweight accompanies this article. Give this medication SQ over the ribs with an 18 gauge needle so that the goat doesn't become a pin cushion of holes from repeated injections. Very Important: Continue all treatment until 24 hours *after* the last symptom has disappeared to avoid a relapse.
Summary: To try to avoid this disease, decrease grain, increase roughage, avoid moldy hay and grain, and don't use feed that is susceptible to mold (molasses-based/textured feeds). Complete avoidance of Goat Polio is impossible. After doing everything "right," producers can still have a goat contract Goat Polio occasionally.
Listeriosis is a brain-stem disease caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, which is found in soil, water, plant litter, silage, and even in the goat's digestive tract. The bacterium generally enters the goat's body through the mouth and multiplies rapidly in cold temperatures. There are two forms of Listeriosis: one form results in abortions, while the other causes encephalitis. Both types are seldom seen at the same time in the same herd. The organism can be shed in the milk of both carrier and sick goats. Listeriosis is potentially zoonotic (able to be transmitted to humans.) Like Goat Polio, Listeriosis is most often seen in intensive management situations. Unlike Goat Polio, Listeriosis is more common in adult animals than in kids. Because some goats are carriers who never display any symptoms, it is possible to buy infected animals and introduce this disease into a previously uninfected herd.
Listeriosis is brought on by feeding silage, suddenly changing type and kind of feed (grain or hay), parasitism, dramatic weather changes, and advanced stages of pregnancy. The encephalitic form is most common, causing inflammation of the nerves in the goat's brain stem. Symptoms include some or all of the following: depression, decreased appetite, fever, leaning or stumbling or moving in one direction only, head pulled to flank with rigid neck (similar to symptoms of tetanus), facial paralysis on one side, blindness, slack jaw, and drooling. Diarrhea is present only in the strain of Listeriosis which causes abortions and pregnancy toxemia. Listeriosis can be mistaken for rabies. Immediate treatment is critical. There is no time to waste with Listeriosis. Recovery is more difficult and time-consuming than Goat Polio. A goat can go blind and completely recover its eyesight and overall health if proper treatment is provided; such treatment can take days or even weeks, depending upon the severity of the illness and how quickly treatment was begun.
Treatment involves administration of high doses of procaine penicillin (300,000 International Unit strength) every six hours on a 24-hour cycle up to and through 24 hours after the last symptom has disappeared to avoid relapse. Higher-than-normal dosage of procaine penicillin is needed to cross the blood brain barrier to put sufficient amounts of the antibiotic into the tissue of the goat's central nervous system. A chart of dosage by bodyweight accompanies this article. Very Important: Continue all treatment until 24 hours *after* the last symptom has disappeared to avoid a relapse. Give the procaine pencillin SQ over the ribs with an 18 gauge needle so the goat doesn't become a pin cushion of holes from repeated injections during this intensive treatment. This author also uses Vitamin B 1 (Thiamine) along with the penicillin treatment. Thiamine is an appropriate addition to treatment of any sick goat. Dosage is outlined above in the Goat Polio section of this article. Dexamethasone ( cortico-steroid) injections can be used to reduce brain stem swelling. Dexamethasone will induce labor in pregnant does, but the doe is likely to abort anyhow as a result of this infection, so producers might be wise to abort the pregnancy if they wish to save the sick doe. Dexamethasone dosage is 5 to 6 cc per 100 pounds bodyweight given IM in decreasing amounts daily. Example: Goat is 100 pounds liveweight. Dosage is 6 cc into the muscle on Day One, 5 cc on Day Two, 4 cc on Day Three, 3 cc on Day Four, 2 cc on Day Five, one cc on Day Six, nothing on Day Seven. If the goat is over 100 pounds, drop dosages daily in increments of two or three cc's. Example: Dose a 200 pound goat at 12 cc on Day One, 10 cc on Day Two, 8 cc on Day Three, 6 cc on Day Four, 4 cc on Day Five, 2 cc on Day Six, nothing on Day Seven. Dexamethasone should be tapered off rather than quit abruptly. This writer would be reluctant to use Dexamethasone on young kids six months of age or less except under the direction of my veterinarian.
Prevention: Feed your goats properly. No silage; the possibility of mold is too great. No moldy feed or hay. Clean pens. No sudden changes in types of feed (grain or hay). Lots of free-choice quality roughage, particularly in the latter stages of pregnancy. And don't overfeed on grain.
NOTE ON HYDRATION/NUTRITION: Do not fail to keep the sick goat hydrated and fed. With Goat Polio and Listeriosis, a goat is usually totally off feed and water. This means that the producer must stomach tube nutrients (electrolytes, energy, protein) into the goat. A 100 pound goat needs one gallon of fluids daily. That is 3,840 cc's. No producer can syringe 3,840 cc's of fluids daily into a goat without stressing both the goat and the caregiver. All of the proper medications won't save a goat if that animal dies of dehydration/starvation. Entrolyte (oral calf nutrient powder containing electrolytes and 13% protein) or comparable product should always be kept on hand for these situations. Do not offer grain to a sick goat but instead provide easy-to-digest forage plants (weeds & leaves) and grass hay.
Alert to Goat Show Participants: The manner in which many of you are taught to raise your animals often results in Goat Polio, Urinary Calculi, Laminitis/Founder, and other metabolic and nutritionally-related diseases. Particularly in 4H and FFA shows, many are beginners and rely upon the information and training being provided by ag teachers, county agents, and judges. Goats are ruminants, and ruminants are pot-bellied animals. A large rumen is an excellent digestive factory. Proper hydration -- the rumen must be 90% water to function correctly -- and nutrition is critical to the goat's overall health and growth.
For those producers who are connected to the Internet, join this author's goat groups. ChevonTalk on Yahoogroups addresses goat health, nutrition, and management, while GoatER on Yahoogroups focuses on goat health emergencies only. Subscribe to these free services at www.tennesseemeatgoats.com or log on to Yahoogroups, search for ChevonTalk and GoatER, and subscribe there.
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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.
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