HEALTH PROBLEMS OF PREGNANT & LACTATING DOES
The most common health problems experienced by pregnant and lactating does are described in this article.
Prolapses exist if either the vagina or the rectum is outside the doe's body. Prolapses in pregnant does usually happen during the final 30 days of pregnancy -- if they are going to occur at all. Rectal prolapses tend to occur in does that have been fed too much grain and are therefore too fat. Proper nutritional management makes rectal prolapses less likely to occur. Vaginal prolapses are mostly hereditary and usually can be bred out by mating the doe with an unrelated buck whose previous female offspring have not prolapsed. Does that prolapse more than once should be culled from the breeding herd and sold for slaughter.
Returning a prolapse to the inside of the goat's body must be done very carefully. To prevent infection, clean the prolapse with a solution of Nolvasan, Clorhexadine, or similar product by gently pouring the slightly warmed mixture over it. This is very delicate and easily torn tissue. Take great care. Put on disposable gloves and apply a water-soluble lubricant like K-Y Jelly to the gloved hand being used to re-position the prolapse. Using the flat palm of the gloved hand, gently and with even pressure press the prolapse back inside the goat. This is a two-person job; one person has to hold the goat in a standing position while lifting its rear legs off the ground so that it can't push against the hand of the second person, who is attempting to return the prolapsed organ back inside the goat. Sometimes it is necessary to place the goat on its side in order to get the proper angle that allows reinsertion of the prolapse.
If the prolapse has been outside the body for several hours or overnight, causing it to dry out and therefore become more difficult to reposition back inside the goat, then granulated sugar can be sprinkled over the cleansed prolapse. Sugar helps shrink the prolapse, easing its return inside the goat's body. If none of these procedures is successful, it is time to call a veterinarian. Once the vet gets the prolapse back in place, he can install a series of pursestring stitches to hold the prolapsed organ inside. Five days of injectible antibiotics is advisable to prevent a systemic infection. I use procaine penicillin and dose at five cc per 100 pounds bodyweight, giving SQ over the ribs for five consecutive days. If it is a vaginal prolapse, the precise kidding date must either be known or the producer must frequently check the doe for signs of labor. When the doe's water breaks, the stitches must be cut immediately so that her kids can be born. Otherwise they will drown. Dead kids inside a doe result in toxemia and her likely death. Place the doe in a close-by pen and check her every couple of hours, including throughout the night, as kidding time nears. See my article on Prolapses on the Articles page at www.tennesseemeatgoats.com for additional details.
Mastitis is an infected udder that prevents a lactating doe from making milk with which to nurse her kids. Although most Mastitis occurs when bacteria enters the teat via the orifice, there is evidence that some cases of Mastitis may be inherited in certain genetic lines. A mastitic udder becomes hot, swollen, and hard. If there is any milk, it is stringy, blood-tainted, and unuseable. Because they are heavy milkers, dairy and dairy-cross does tend to experience more Mastitis than other breeds. However, no breed or type of goat is immune from developing Mastitis.
Mastitis can develop at any time. A doe can produce adequate colostrum for her newborns and be mastitic when her milk comes in. Open (unbred) does can develop Mastitis. In severe cases, treatment may require removing the kid from the dam and bottle feeding it or grafting the kids onto another lactating doe. Once such kids are several weeks old, milk-based pellets ( calf manna) can be mixed with their normal grain and fed to ease their transition to solid food.
Does with Mastitis should be milked out (if possible) and the udder infused through the teat's orifice with an intramammary infusion of antibiotics that target Mastitis in lactating does. My article on Mastitis on the Articles page of www.tennesseemeatgoats.com describes several of these products. Always clean the teat, the teat's orifice, and the infusion tube with the alcohol prep pads that accompany such products before infusing medication. Wear disposable gloves. Do not re-use the alcohol prep pad. There is a huge risk of infecting the udder more severely when medicating it in this manner. After infusion, gently massage the udder to try to move the medication around inside it. Bag balm may be applied to the outside of the udder for comfort and ease of massaging.
Injectable antibiotics are not effective against the organisms which cause Mastitis because the medications cannot reach the source of the infection. An udder is a fibrous interwoven mass of tissue that is "walled off" from the rest of the body. Systemic (throughout-the-body) antibiotics will help keep the doe from developing a secondary infection that can damage her overall health. Chewable Vitamin C or Vitamin C injections may help treat Mastitis. Cai-Pan Peppermint Cream and Milk of Magnesia are two other helpful products. Never inject a doe's udder with antibiotics; it will kill her. Mastitis tends to be chronic; it is likely to recur with each succeeding pregnancy because it is virtually impossible to kill all the bacteria inside the udder's dense tissue. Some does run fever with Mastitis. A fever-reducing medication like injectable Banamine or the oral dosing of aspirin can be helpful. Since Mastitis is often chronic and is usually incurable, it is normally a cull factor in most meat-goat herds.
Congested Udder is a condition that appears to be similar to Mastitis but doesn't have the infection component. Congested udder can be just as problematic because milk will not release from the udder. Hot compresses should be added to the Mastitis regimen. In most cases, the udder infusion treatment is not necessary, but you must be certain that Mastitis is not present before you omit infusion treatment.
Abortions can be caused by bacterial or viral organisms, by the existence of specific conditions, by using certain medications, or by several other factors. Many organisms can cause a doe to abort. Some of them are Chlamydia (bacterial), Herpes (viral), Neospora caninum, Campylobacteriosis, Leptospirosis, Listeriosis, Salmonellosis, Q Fever, Akabane Virus, and Toxoplasmosis. The sudden onset of multiple abortions in a herd is called an abortion storm. Such situations present a potential herd-wide problem and necropsies should be done to find out the cause. Both the dead fetuses and all possible placenta material must be saved and taken to a vet or pathologist for evaluation. Some of these diseases are zoonotic (humans can catch them), so handle all aborted fetuses and placental material using disposable gloves.
Some abortions occur when a fetus does not develop properly; these "spontaneous abortions" or "miscarriages" ensure that a defective kid is not carried to term. A doe with a heavy worm load may abort. Severe anemia results from untreated worm loads, often killing both the fetuses and the pregnant doe. Abortion can happen when a doe is hit by another goat; the umbilical cord's connection to the abdominal wall is severed and the fetus dies in utero -- creating a toxic condition that often kills the doe. Certain deworming medications can cause abortions: Valbazen, Synanthic, and Levamisole have all be reported to induce abortions at various stages of pregnancy. Avoid using these dewormers with pregnant does.
A doe that hasn't received proper nutrition may abort. In fact, inadequate and/or improper nutrition is the most common cause of abortions.
Pregnancy Toxemia can occur within the last six weeks of pregnancy and is caused either by underfeeding (starvation toxemia equals an energy shortage) or overfeeding. A doe's nutritional balance is critical during this timeframe. Feeding too much grain or feeding the wrong kinds of grain is usually the culprit. During these last weeks of pregnancy, a doe has little room in her body for lots of grain, fast-growing fetuses, and the amount of roughage (grass hay) vital for proper rumen function. A goat goes off-feed when it doesn't get enough roughage. Huge stores of body fat plus a uterus full of fetuses set the stage for Pregnancy Toxemia. Symptoms of Pregnancy Toxemia include off-feed, dull eyes, slow moving, general weakness, tremors, teeth grinding, stargazing, leg swelling, and coma. When fetuses die, toxemia results from the decaying bodies inside the doe and she also dies. All of this happens because of improper feeding.
When Pregnancy Toxemia occurs, a dramatic change in feed will not solve the problem. Instead, divide her grain into three or four small meals each day. Make sure that she eats a lot of top-quality grass hay. Leave fresh, clean water out free choice. Also offer some warm water laced with molasses or apple juice to encourage water consumption. The doe needs to drink a lot of water to flush toxins from her kidneys. An occasional handful of alfalfa hay may prove helpful. Propylene glycol dosed at 60 cc orally twice a day can be used, but this product is hard on her kidneys and goats usually don't like it. An alternative to propylene glycol is a combination of 50% dextrose diluted with an equal amount of water and given orally at a rate of 60 cc twice per day. Molasses and water or Karo syrup and water can also be used. Get both Vitamin B12 and Fortified Vitamin B Complex into her, and orally drench her with Goat Nutri-Drench (www.jefferslivestock.com). Feed the doe as many green leaves as she will eat; in off-growing season, pick dried leaves and offer them to her free choice. Oral administration of CMPK or MFO is desirable. Niacin at a rate of 1000 mg per day is helpful. Daily dosing with probiotic paste are advisable. Moderate exercise is essential; do not allow the doe to be inactive.
A good preventative measure for both Pregnancy Toxemia and Ketosis is to offer 20% protein sheep-and-goat blocks or tubs offered free choice to all pregnant does. The energy available in these blocks and tubs goes a long way towards counteracting nutritional problems. Buy protein blocks or tubs that are NOT combined with minerals; minerals are used to reduce (limit) feed consumption by livestock but you are trying to increase the goats' nutritional levels at this critical point in pregnancy. Make sure that the sheep-and-goat blocks and tubs do not contain urea (also known as non-protein nitrogen). Use these blocks and tubs as supplements to whatever else is being fed. A goat's ability to overeat on these blocks and tubs is almost non-existent. Offer loose minerals made for goats on a free-choice basis; the does will eat the goat minerals as they need them. This is a good example of a situation where a protein and mineral combination block or tub is not desirable. One size does not fit all.
Ketosis describes conditions similar to Pregnancy Toxemia that occur once kidding has taken place. If the pregnant female does not receive adequate amounts of proper nutrition to feed both herself and her unborn kids, when she begins the kidding process or has just completed kidding, her body will draw upon stored fat reserves in order to produce milk to feed her babies. Then her own body tissues begin to go into starvation mode and deadly ketones are released as by-products of this process. A quick way to diagnose Ketosis: a doe with sweet-smelling urine is ketotic. Ketosis test strips can be purchased at pharmacies; they are an over-the-counter product but usually have to be requested. Placing a ketosis test strip in a urine stream results in a color change that identifies Ketosis is occurring. Tip: A goat urinates and then defecates when it first stands after having been in a sitting position for some time.
Treatment is the same as described above for Pregnancy Toxemia. Bringing a doe back from Ketosis is difficult; death is too often the result. Prevention of Ketosis is simple. Feed her properly during pregnancy and after kidding. Ketosis -- like Pregnancy Toxemia -- is caused by improper feeding.
Hypocalcemia ("Milk Fever") is not really a fever at all but a calcium imbalance in the doe's body. The mis-naming of this illness often causes confusion. If a doe is going to become hypocalcemic, it will occur around kidding time. She will become uninterested in eating (go off-feed), may be mildly bloated or constipated, have a cold dry mouth, has difficulty walking and/or rising from a sitting position, have sub-normal body temperature (sub-normal), have cold rear legs and drag them, and may have weak labor contractions. Sometimes the only symptom is hind-leg dragging. Rear body parts feel cold to the touch. If the doe cannot get up, set her upright on her sternum and pull her head to one side; this position should reduce the chance of aspirating rumen contents into her lungs that may result from bloating.
Hypocalcemia is a complex process involving hormonal changes that occur as the doe's body mobilizes calcium in the production of milk. Feeds rich in calcium, as well as alfalfa and peanut (legume) hay, are believed to be the culprits. These products contain calcium in excess of what the doe needs at kidding time. This excess calcium sets off a chain reaction, causing calcium to be deposited in the doe's bones when her body needs to be releasing it from the bones for milk production. Hypocalcemia is a failure of the body's system to properly mobilize calcium. It is not a deficiency of calcium reserves.
The best way to prevent Hypocalcemia is to lower oral calcium intake in feed during the last 30 days of pregnancy. In most meat-goat herds, this can be done by eliminating legume hays (alfalfa & peanut hay) from the pregnant doe's diet. This puts the doe's body in a slightly negative calcium position, allowing the hormonal system to mobilize its calcium reserves. If legume hays are the only source of roughage available for feeding, then no calcium supplements should be fed during the last 30 days of gestation. Pregnant does on grass hay need to be fed a grain supplement containing 0.5% dicalcium phosphate or equivalent. Remember that rapid changes in feeding patterns cause ruminal acidosis, so make all changes slowly -- over 15 days.
Treatment for Hypocalcemia is to orally drench the doe with CMPK or MFO. Both products are available over-the-counter from Jeffers 1-800-533-3377. If caught early, Hypocalcemia is readily treatable. If allowed to progress untreated, it can result in enterotoxemia, mastitis, retained placenta, and death. Once again, improper feeding causes the illness.
Dystocia is the term used to describe kidding difficulties. This includes improper/abnormal presentation of kids in the birth canal, requiring you to manually reposition the kids for vaginal delivery. How to do this is a detailed separate article and will not be addressed here. Metritis describes a uterine infection. Pyometra is pus in the uterus which can be treated with appropriate boluses. Retained placenta exists when the placenta does not pass out of the doe within 24 hours of kidding. Never pull placental material out of the doe; a torn uterus can result and she can die. Uterine torsion describes a twisted uterus and requires veterinarian intervention. Ringwomb is the failure of the cervix to dilate. Manual stretching of the cervix is very dangerous; CMPK should be given orally. C-section is likely needed.
The variety and complexity of problems that pregnant and lactating does can experience should make it clear to you that appropriate supplies and medications should be on hand at least 60 days before the first doe is scheduled to go into labor. Not every problem can be solved nor every kid or doe saved, but being prepared will make a huge difference in whether or not you are successful in your goat-raising business.
Suzanne W. Gasparotto
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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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