Onion Creek Ranch, Lohn, Texas
Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Lohn, TX
Lohn, Texas
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Different Causes, Similar Symptoms, Similar Treatments

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.

Goat Polio: Polioencephalomalacia (also known as Cerebrocortical Necrosis) is essentially thiamine (Vitamin B 1) deficiency. Doesn't sound very serious, does it? Well, it is life threatening to the goat. 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, creating an acidic condition and predisposing the goat 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 (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 the frequency of this disease 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 make goats eat very poor forage/browse.

Symptoms of Polioencephalomalacia can be any combination of or all of the following: excitability, "stargazing" (nystagmus - involuntary eye movement), uncoordinated staggering and/or weaving (ataxia), circling, diarrhea, muscle tremors, and blindness. Initial symptoms can look like Entertoxemia (overeating disease) because the rumen's 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 goat will be dead before you get test results back.

Thiamine is the only effective therapy, and treatment can result in rapid improvement if the disease is caught early enough. Thiamine is an inexpensive veterinary prescription that you should always keep on hand; 100 mg/ml is the minimum strength required to treat goats. Dosage is based on the goat's weight (5 cc per 100 pounds liveweight for 100 mg/ml thiamine) and should 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 soluble, so the goat eliminates daily what it doesn't utilize in the rumen, making it difficult to overdose thiamine. A sick goat's rumen doesn't produce B vitamins, hence the importance of administering B1 daily 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 you have injectable Fortified Vitamin B Complex, you can use that product. Injectable multiple B vitamins containing only 25mg/ml of thiamin require four times the 100mg/ml dosage (20 cc per 100 pounds bodyweight), so you can readily 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. Supportive care, which usually means stomach tubing electrolytes and tube feeding protein into the goat, is necessary until the goat is stabilized and able to eat on its own. For protein, I put eight (8) ounces of mixed goat milk replacer in every half gallon of electrolytes and tube feed a weight-appropriate amount divided into three or four tube feedings per day.

Since symptoms of Goat Polio can easily look like Listeriosis, I use procaine penicillin (300,000 International Units) in addition to thiamine. 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. I inject double the normal dosage of procaine penicillin: d 10 cc per 100 pounds bodyweight, and I give this medication SQ over the ribs with an 18 gauge needle so that the goat doesn't become a pin cushion from repeated injections. Important: I continue all treatment until 24 hours after the last symptom has disappeared to avoid a relapse.

Try to avoid this disease by decreasing grain intake, increasing quality roughage, avoiding moldy hay and grain, and not using feed that is susceptible to mold (molasses-based/textured feeds). Complete avoidance of Goat Polio is impossible. After doing everything right, you may still have a goat contract Goat Polio.

Listeriosis: 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 bacteria generally enter the goat's body through the mouth and multiplies rapidly. There are two types of Listeriosis: one type 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.) Listeriosis is most often seen in intensive management situations and 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 not contagious from goat to goat. The bacteria is out there in the pasture, waiting to infect a stressed goat.

Listeriosis can be brought on by feeding silage, suddenly changing type and kind of feed (grain or hay), parasites, 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 and advanced dehydration), 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. I use 10 cc procaine penicillin per 100 pounds bodyweight (double the normal dosage). Very Important: Continue all treatment until 24 hours after the last symptom has disappeared to avoid a relapse. Give the procaine penicillin 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. I also use Vitamin B 1 (Thiamine) along with the penicillin treatment. Thiamine is an appropriate addition to treatment of any sick goat (five cc per 100 pounds bodyweight). Dexamethasone (a cortico-steroid) injections are 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 you might be wise to abort the pregnancy if you wish to save the sick doe. Dexamethasone dosage is 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 IM on Day Two, 4 cc IM on Day Three, 3 cc IM on Day Four, 2 cc IM on Day Five, one cc IM 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 IM on Day One, 10 cc IM on Day Two, 8 cc IM on Day Three, 6 cc IM on Day Four, 4 cc IM on Day Five, 2 cc IM on Day Six, 1 cc IM on Day Seven, nothing on Day Eight. Dexamethasone must be tapered off rather than stopped abruptly. I 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. Provide pelleted feed (3/16th of an inch pellets). No textured (horse & mule) feed. 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. Never put out grain free choice; always take up whatever hasn't been eaten after ten minutes.

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 you 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. You cannot syringe 3,840 cc's of fluids daily into a goat without stressing both the goat and yourself. All of the proper medications won't save a goat if that animal dies of dehydration/starvation. Use the kid milk replacer & electrolytes formula in the Goat Polio section of this article to feed a goat that isn't eating on its own. Do not offer grain to a sick goat but instead provide easy-to-digest forage plants (weeds & leaves) and grass hay.

Goat Show Participants: The manner in which many of you are taught to raise your animals too 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. Forage-based feeding (leaves and weeds) and "horse-quality" grass hay (example: orchard grass) are vital to the goat's ability to digest its feed and keep its body warm. Sacked feed is fine to use but to a limited extent, only once per day, and in the mornings (not evenings). Goats are ruminants, and ruminants are pot-bellied animals. A large rumen is an excellent digestive factory. Proper hydration -- the rumen must be about 70% water to function correctly -- and nutrition is critical to the goat's overall health and growth. Goats layer fat like deer; heavy grain feeding puts layers of fat around their internal organs. Not healthy.

For those goat raisers who are connected to the Internet, I recommend that you join my goat groups. ChevonTalk on Yahoogroups addresses goat health, nutrition, and management, as well as goat health emergencies, while MeatGoatMania on Yahoogroups is the venue for my newest articles. Subscribe to these free services at www.tennesseemeatgoats.com or log on to Yahoogroups, search for ChevonTalk and MeatGoatMania, and subscribe there. If you aren't connected to the Internet, get connected. There isn't much good information about goats available to begin with. Much of the information on the Internet is wrong, but once you learn how to distinguish valid information from the garbage, it will benefit your goats.

The information provided is how I treat Goat Polio and Listeriosis at Onion Creek Ranch in Texas. I am not a vet but I've been raising quality breeding stock since 1990. Use this information at your own risk and with appropriate care.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 10-2-16

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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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