FEEDING AND HYDRATING A SICK GOAT
Illnesses in goats fall into several categories: (1) Rumen-related problems; (2) Infectious diseases, bacterial and viral; (3) Dystocia (birthing difficulties); (4) Parasites, internal and external; and (5) issues the producer has little to no control over, such as birth defects and currently-incurable diseases like Scrapie and Foot-and-Mouth Disease. This article will address how to feed and hydrate a sick goat with health problems that the goat producer has some chance of solving.
When a goat gets sick, it needs quick attention. Goats are not the indestructible tin-can-eaters of Saturday morning cartoon fame. While they are adaptable and hardy in many respects, goats stress easily and sometimes give up quickly when they are ill.
In today's highly-managed meat-goat herds, many health problems are the direct result of improper management and feeding by the producer. Meat goats were never intended to be pen-raised animals. In terms of how they live and eat in natural surroundings, they are "first cousins" to deer -- roaming over many acres daily, while carefully selecting the choicest plants to eat. Confinement leads to health problems in meat goats.
Rumen-related Problems: A common problem in managed herds is rumen-related. Bloat, ruminal acidosis, Overeating Disease, urinary calculi, ketosis, hypocalcemia ("milk fever") . . . . all are the result of improper feeding. Goats are remarkably able to digest plant materials that other species cannot utilize. However, this ability cuts both ways. The slow metabolism that permits efficient use of harder-to-digest plants also results in slower movement through the body of toxic or other illness-causing materials. If rumen problems are not immediately discovered and treated, the goat will die.
Treating a goat with an elevated body temperature is usually easier than trying to save a goat with sub-normal body temperature. While fever indicates infection and/or inflammation, low body temperature usually means rumen problems. (Sub-normal body temperature also occurs when the illness has progressed to the point that the goat's body is already shutting down and dying. The producer has to learn how to distinguish between these two conditions.) It is much tougher to bring body temperature up than down, particularly in adult goats.
Infectious Diseases: Pneumonia, Salmonella, eColi, staph, and mastitis are examples of the bacterial infections goats encounter. Pinkeye can be bacterial or viral, depending upon the infectious agent.
Soremouth (also known as Orf) is one example of a viral disease. Viral diseases do not respond to antibiotics but instead require supportive care (topical medications, water, food, shelter) until they run their course.
Dystocia (birthing complications): Almost all birthing problems relate directly back to over-fat does. Strangely, Americans want to be thin people but want their animals to be fat. Fat isn't healthy in any animal, and both dams and kids physically suffer from this approach. Overweight dams have trouble kidding; large-birth-weight kids are slow to get on their feet and lag behind developmentally.
Parasites: Internally, worms and coccidiosis ravage a goat's body. Externally, lice, ticks, fleas, and other pests cause more problems for the animal.
How to feed and hydrate a sick goat until it gets well:
The first step is to figure out what is wrong. Take the goat's rectal temperature. A goat's normal temperature range is 101.5*F to 103.5*F. Allow a degree higher if the goat is out in the sun on a hot day. Fever or inflammation indicates infection and therefore antibiotics are appropriate. Whenever a goat is sick or injured, take the rectal temperature first and then address the likelihood of dehydration as well as the need for antibiotic or other medical treatment.
A goat standing off by itself is either a doe getting ready to kid or a sick goat. Goats are herd animals. They hate being alone. A goat alone is a goat in need of being looked over carefully. If the problem is not obvious, examine the goat thoroughly. Whether the problem has been discovered or if it has not yet been determined, pen the goat separately from the rest of the herd. (Occasionally the producer can treat and place the goat back with its herd, but for the sake of this article, the writer is assuming isolation is needed.) The writer's article on how to diagnose illnesses in goats appears on the Onion Creek Ranch website's Articles page .
Once treatment has begun, or if the goat is penned for observation, provide clean water and fresh grass hay. Green leaves, when available, are the best food source that the goat can be offered. Green leaves on freshly-cut branches are the goat's natural food and are more easily digested than anything else. Do not provide processed grains such as sacked feed or cracked/shelled corn; the sick goat will not be able to digest them properly and recovery will be delayed. Electrolytes in liquid form (ReSorb) should be provided. If ReSorb or similar product is not available, Pedialyte or Gatorade can be substituted until livestock electrolytes can be obtained. Offer loose minerals free-choice, though the goat likely will not eat them right away.
A goat that can't hold its head up also cannot digest solid food in its stomach, whether it is an adult goat, or in the case of a newborn kid, colostrum or milk. When a goat is ill, its body diverts blood to organs essential for survival, such as the heart, kidneys, and lungs. The digestive system is not considered critical for survival at this point. If the producer forces solid food (or colostrum/milk) into the animal, it will remain undigested and complicate, if not make impossible, the chances for recovery. Fluids are what a goat in this condition needs, especially electrolytes.
If the goat is unable to stand, sit it upright on its sternum (chest) and use a wall or other stationary object to support the animal. If the goat cannot sit upright and is on its side, then turn the animal from side to side at least once every hour. This is very important. Blood circulation must be maintained for medications to get to their destination and for proper fluid absorption.
A very rough rule of thumb: A living creature can live without air for about three minutes, survive without water for perhaps three days, and may be able to live without food for up to three weeks. While the accuracy of these timeframes may be debated, the intent is clear --- given a choice between liquids and food, choose liquids. The producer can administer all the right medications, but if the goat dehydrates, it is going to die. When the kidneys shut down, it's over.
A dehydrated goat is an almost dead goat. Adult or kid, a goat cannot survive long without adequate fluid levels in its body. Nearly every illness or injury to a goat involves some level of dehydration. A good indicator of dehydration is lack of urination. (Note: A goat that is straining to urinate has an entirely different problem. See the author's article on Urinary Calculi on the Articles page.
Fever, like diarrhea, removes large amounts of liquids from the goat's body. Pregnancy-related problems, illnesses, or injuries of any type often produce circumstances that result in dehyration. Anytime a goat is off-water and/or off-feed, the likelihood that dehydration will occur must be recognized and dealt with. Sub-normal body temperature, which is often an indication of rumen-related problems or that the goat's bodily functions are already shutting down and death is imminent, goes hand in hand with dehydration. Shock, toxic reactions (poisoning), and infection all involve some level of dehydration. The list goes on and on, but the point is that rehydrating the animal is as important as administering medications.
Diarrhea in adults and kids is a symptom of illness in goats rather than a problem in and of itself. Something has gone wrong to cause the diarrhea. Regardless of what caused the diarrhea, maintaining hydration when diarrhea exists is critical to the survival of the goat. See this author's article on Diarrhea on the Articles page.
NOTE: The producer cannot adequately rehydrate a goat, adult or kid, by using a syringe filled with fluid. A 60 cc syringe is only two ounces and is too cumbersome to use to dribble liquid into the goat's mouth. Using a 6cc or 12cc syringe for rehydration purposes takes an enormous amount of time. Both the goat and the producer are going to stress out before any reasonable amount of fluid has been delivered. A 100-pound goat needs at least a gallon of liquid a day to maintain hydration. On average, a ten-pound kid needs about 20 ounces of liquids daily to survive. Goats drink as much water in cold weather as in the heat. Remember, the less you handle the goat, the better for both of you.
A newborn kid comes into the world empty and vulnerable; immediate intake of colostrum is essential to its survival. If the kid does not get this life-starting liquid, it will dehydrate quickly and die. To save a kid whose dam is either unwilling or unable to nurse it, the producer must supply fluids in the form of colostrum from the dam or colostrum replacer (not colostrum supplement). Weak or severely-dehydrated kids need a molasses/Karo syrup & water solution administered orally and Lactated Ringers Solution given sub-cutaneously before their stomachs can digest colostrum or milk. Electrolytes (ReSorb, Pedialyte, or Gatorade) should be kept on hand for additional oral rehydration purposes. If these products are not available or if the producer does not know how to administer them, then the kid needs immediate professional veterinary intervention in order to survive. In many cases, both oral and sub-cutaneous rehydration techniques are necessary to save a weak or dying kid. See this writer's article on Health Problems of Newborn and Young Kids for instructions on how to administer Lactated Ringers Solution; this article can be found on the Articles page
Adults - Stomach tubing an adult goat is much easier than tubing a kid because the risk of threading the catheter (tube) into the lungs is less.
Purchase an adult livestock stomach tube (Register Distributing: goatsupplies.netfirms.com or 1-888-310-9606; or Jeffers Vet Supply: 1-800-JEFFERS. 1/2" outside diameter, 10 foot length of clear polyvinyl chloride tubing) and cut the base of a plastic funnel to fit over the end of the tubing. Using an 8-inch length of 1" PVC, file off the sharp edges, and store it with the stomach tube and funnel.
When a sick adult goat goes off-feed, it is difficult to individually syringe enough electrolytes or nutrients into it. First, rehydrate the goat with electrolytes. If, after three to four days, the goat is still not eating and can hold its head upright, take a packet of Entrolyte (oral calf nutrient powder made by Pfizer containing 13.24% crude protein in addition to electrolytes) and mix it with one-half gallon of warm water. Stomach tube the sick adult goat morning and night with this mixture until it begins eating on its own again. (Note: Entrolyte dosage is based upon a 50 pound goat. Adjust accordingly. Use common sense when dosing -- if it seems like too much, cut back.)
To insert the stomach tube into the adult goat, have another person hold the animal steady. Place the short piece of PVC into the goat's mouth as far back as possible to prevent the goat from biting the soft tubing into pieces and swallowing it. If this occurs, surgery is required to remove the tubing so that the goat does not die. Before inserting the tubing, try to gauge how far it should go into the goat's body in order to reach the stomach. Uncurl the tubing and thread it through the PVC pipe. If you meet resistance, pull the tubing out and begin again. Before attaching the funnel, listen for a crackling/gurgling/popping sound which indicates you are in the stomach (and not in the lungs). Gently blow into the tube to obtain more sound feedback to further insure that you do not have the tube in the lungs. Attach the funnel and hold that end of the tubing high for good gravity flow. Make sure that the tubing is straight and uncurled, then begin to pour the liquid into the funnel. If the fluid does not flow into the goat, pull the tube out a bit . . . . you've got it in too far. Check to make sure that the tubing is not kinked or twisted and that you have the funnel held high. When all of the liquid has been poured into the tube, wait several seconds before removing the tubing so that none enters the lungs as the catheter is withdrawn. Rinse the tubing, funnel, and PVC thoroughly and hang it to dry before it is needed again.
Kids - Stomach tubing newborn and young kids is more of a challenge than tubing adults because (a) they are harder to hold still without risking injury, (b) getting the catheter into the stomach and not the lungs is more difficult, and (c) it is easier to over-fill a kid's stomach and make the situation even worse. However, with some dexterity, one person can do it if no one else is available.
Purchase a Weak-Kid Syringe with accompanying stomach tube. Both Register Distributing and Jeffers sell a 60 cc poly syringe with a long, flexible feeding tube made specifically for kids. Buy several extra stomach tubes, as kids bite and chew on them.
Whether stomach-tubing colostrum, milk, or electrolytes, the kid should be placed on its side on a counter, bench, or table, preferably on a soft towel, with its head towards the side from which the producer will be funneling the tube already attached to a weak-kid syringe. (Remove the plunger from the syringe, as it is not needed for this procedure.) Measure the tube from the kid's mouth to the approximate location of the stomach so you have some idea of how far to insert the tubing. Holding the head steady and controlling its body with your other forearm, carefully thread the tube into the kid's mouth and down the side (rather than down the center) of the throat. If you meet resistance, pull the tubing out and begin again. Use the same 'listening/gentle blowing into the syringe' technique before pouring liquid into the funnel. Do not pour into the funnel more than one ounce (30 cc's) at a time and frequently pinch the tube with your fingers to stop the flow so that the kid is not overwhelmed. Remember that you are dealing with a weak/sick baby goat. The kid's head can be lifted from the counter to allow gravity to assist in the flow. It is difficult to hold a kid in the standing position while tubing it. Kids are very adept at expelling stomach tubes by spitting them up, so be careful to keep the correct amount of tubing inside the goat. As the tube comes out, fluid can enter the lungs. Before removing the tube, gently blow into it to make sure that all liquid has passed through the tube and into the kid. Pinch the tube and hold the pinch securely for several seconds before removing the tube. Keep the tube pinched until the entire catheter is out of the kid's body.
When tube feeding a weak or sick kid, limit the amount tubed at one time to two ounces (60 cc). Give the kid time to digest the liquids tubed into it. Because colostrum from some dams is very thick, it may be necesssary to slightly thin it with regular goat's milk for proper flow through the stomach tube. Cut a length of thick stiff wire equal to the length of the stomach tube for use in unstopping the tube. Do not tube milk or colostrum into a kid who cannot hold its head up. Use sugar and water mixtures (Karo syrup, molasses, or similar product) to give it energy until it can sit upright. See this writer's article entitled "Health Problems of Newborn and Weak Kids" on her website's Articles page for how to treat sick and weak kids.
Here's a tip on how to tell if a kid is full or needs additional nutrition: Place the kid with all four feet on the ground and feel the abdomen in front of the back legs with both hands. The stomach should feel firm but not tight. If the kid's belly feels 'squishy,' then he needs more colostrum, milk, or whatever is being tubed or bottle-fed into him. If you perform this procedure while lifting the kid off the ground, he will feel 'fuller' than he really is.
When feeding or rehydrating a sick goat, remember how you feel when you are ill. Fluids are vital for survival, but solid food upsets your stomach until you are feeling much better --- at which time you "ease" back into your normal diet over a period of days. Why should it be any different for goats?
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!)
All information and photos copyright © Onion Creek Ranch and may not be used without express written permission of Onion Creek Ranch. TENNESSEE MEAT GOAT ™ and TEXMASTER™ are Trademarks of Onion Creek Ranch . All artwork and graphics © DTP, Ink and Onion Creek Ranch.