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 is probably the most mis-diagnosed disease in goats.  Goat raisers as well as many vets automatically think   "goat polio"  before they investigate the more likely problems, such as  STOMACH WORMS.  I have received hundreds  of calls over the past 25+  years from people asking for help with goat polio and after 20 minutes discussion I've determined that the problem is a very heavy stomach worm load.

WITH GOATS, THE PROBLEM IS USUALLY THE SIMPLEST THING.  ALMOST EVERYTHING WITH GOATS STARTS AND ENDS WITH STOMACH WORMS.     Check for the  obvious  problems first,   then start  looking at more "exotic" causes.

Goat Polio and  Listeriosis   are two  different diseases with  similar symptoms. Testing, if available, takes  time that you cannot spare if you want to  save the goat.   I've had the best results treating both diseases identically. Symptoms are similar and overlapping.   As a general rule, adults tend to contract listeriosis while young kids develop goat polio.

Over the years, many goat raisers have called me, telling me that their vet medicated solely  with injectable thiamine for Goat Polio and the goat continued to get  worse, but when they (the goat raiser) added my procaine penicillin and dexamethasone protocol, the goat's health  improved.

My experience has been that the problem is usually Listeriosis rather than Goat Polio, which is another reason I treat both diseases identically.  Goat Polio  usually occurs  in kids in over-managed and over-grained herds, especially show goat herds.

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

LISTERIOSIS:            Listeriosis is a brain-stem disease caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, which is found in soil, water, plant litter, silage, and sometimes in the goat's digestive tract.   The Listeria bacteria often infect  stressed goats grazing on pastures of declining nutritional quality in the fall of the year, but isn't limited to fall infections.  The bacteria usually enter the goat's body through the mouth and multiply 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 goats than in kids.  Listeriosis is not contagious from goat to goat. The bacteria is in the environment, waiting to infect a stressed goat. Listeriosis   usually occurs  in only one stressed goat in the herd.    Oftentimes the "stress" that pushes the goat into Listeria is a heavy wormload.

Listeriosis can be brought on by feeding silage/haylage, suddenly changing type and kind of feed (grain or hay), parasites, dramatic weather changes, advanced stages of pregnancy, and heavy lactation while  nursing  kids. 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 in the strain of Listeriosis which causes abortions and pregnancy toxemia.  Listeriosis can be mistaken for rabies or other diseases.

Immediate treatment is critical.   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.  Treatment can take days or even weeks, depending upon the severity of the illness and how quickly  it is started.

TREATMENT involves administration of double the normal dosage  of procaine penicillin (300,000 International Units) every six hours on a 24-hour cycle. Ten cc's per 100 lbs bodyweight of  procaine penicillin is needed to cross the blood- brain barrier to maintain sufficiently high levels of penicillin   in the blood stream to kill the bacteria.  I give procaine penicillin SQ over the ribs with an 18 gauge needle and  I don't  give more than 6 cc per injection site.    I also give Vitamin B 1 (Thiamine) injections, dosing at 4 cc per 100 pounds liveweight for 100 mg/ml thiamine given IM  or SQ  every 6 hours.    The only injectable over-the-counter product with required 100 mg/ml of thiamine is Fortified Vitamin B Complex. Prescription thiamine (Vitamin B1) is available only from a vet. Injections get the medications into the blood stream faster, and quick treatment is critical with this disease. Thiamine is an appropriate addition to treatment of any sick goat.   It is critical to keep to this 24-hour cycle of medicating the goat.

Very Important: Continue procaine penicillin and thiamine injections for 24 hours AFTER  the last symptom has disappeared to avoid a relapse.

Dexamethasone (prescription 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, so ending the pregnancy will help save the sick doe. Dexamethasone dosage is 6 cc per 100 pounds bodyweight given IM and in decreasing amounts daily. Dexamethasone must be tapered off rather than stopped abruptly. I don't use Dexamethasone on young kids under six months of age except under the direction of my veterinarian. Steroids suppress the immune system, so they must be used only when necessary.

Dosing Dexamethasone to a 100 lb goat:  6 cc on Day 1,   5  cc on Day 2,   4 cc  on Day 3,  3 cc on Day 4,  2 cc on Day 5,  1 cc on Day 6.

The goal is to finish the Dex injections in six days.

Unless the goat is able to eat and drink on its own, supportive  care  (stomach tubing electrolytes mixed with a protein source  into the goat)  is necessary until the goat is stabilized.  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. For an adult goat, I will start tubing with no more than 16 ounces, but this must be adjusted based upon breed and age. See my articles on Stomach Tubing Goats on the Articles page at www.tennesseemeatgoats.com. If you've caught the disease and begun treatment early, the goat may be able to eat and drink on its own.

GOAT POLIO:    Polioencephalomalacia is a metabolic disease with symptoms that are very similar to those of the brain-stem disease Listeriosis (Listeria monocytogenes). Goat polio is usually seen in goats raised under intensive management conditions and/or usually in kids.

Polioencephalomalacia (also known as Cerebrocortical Necrosis) is thiamine (Vitamin B 1) deficiency. Doesn't sound very serious, does it?     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 incorrect feeding (especially feeding too much grain and too little grass hay or forage (roughage),  eating moldy hay or grain, dosing CoRid (amprollium, a thiamine inhibitor) to treat coccidiosis, feeding molasses-based grains which are susceptible to mold (horse & mule feeds), ingesting some species of ferns, sudden changes in diet, the dietary stress of weaning, and reactions to de-wormers thiabendazole and levamisole. Each of these conditions can suppress Vitamin B1 production. The usage of antibiotics destroys flora in the rumen, causing thiamine deficiency. It is important to repopulate the gut with probiotics (live bacteria) AFTER  using antibiotics or diarrhea (scour) medications.

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 Enterotoxemia (overeating disease) because the rumen's flora is compromised. As the disease progresses, convulsions and high fever occur, and if untreated, the goat usually dies within 24-72 hours.   Diagnosis is available via laboratory tests, but the goat will be dead before you get test results back.

Thiamine (Vitamin B1) injections are critical and, if the problem is Goat Polio, can result in rapid improvement if begun early. 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.

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. See the Listeriosis section of this article for how I dose and treat with procaine penicillin 300 I.U. Important: I continue procaine penicillin and thiamine treatment until 24 hours after the last symptom has disappeared to avoid a relapse. Unless it is a very young (pre-ruminating) kid, I also treat with Dexamethasone at the same rates I use for treating Listeriosis.

Early diagnosis and treatment are critical and complete  recovery is possible. Try to avoid this disease by decreasing high grain intake, increasing quality roughage, avoiding moldy hay and grain, and not using feed that is susceptible to mold (molasses-based/textured feeds). Goat Polio is almost always caused by improper feeding.

PREVENTION  OF  BOTH  DISEASES:     Feed your goats properly. Feed pelleted feed (3/16th of an inch pellets). No textured (horse & mule) feed. No silage/haylage/baleage/chaffehaye; the possibility of mold is great. No moldy hay. Clean pens. No sudden changes in types of feed (grain, pasture,  or hay).   Lots of free-choice quality roughage,  especially  in the latter stages of pregnancy. Don't overfeed on grain. Never put out grain free choice; always take up whatever hasn't been eaten after ten minutes and feed less the next day.

HYDRATION  AND  NUTRITION:    You must keep the sick goat hydrated and fed. With Listeriosis and Goat Polio, the goat is usually off feed and water. This means that you must stomach tube nutrients (electrolytes, 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. Medications won't help a goat if it dies of dehydration or starvation. Use the kid milk replacer & electrolytes formula in the Listeriosis section of this article to feed a goat that isn't eating on its own. Don't offer grain to a sick goat but instead provide easy-to-digest forage plants (weeds & leaves) and grass hay. Build a Sick Pen and house goats under treatment there.

GOAT SHOW PARTICIPANTS: The manner in which many of you are taught to raise your goats too often results in goats ill with  Listeriosis, 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 provided by ag teachers, county agents, and judges. Forage-based feeding (leaves and weeds) and "horse-quality" soft-stem grass hay are vital to the goat's ability to digest its feed and keep its body warm. Sacked feed is appropriate if not over-fed and only once per day 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 over  70% water to function correctly) and nutrition are 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.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas     10.1.20

Meat Goat Mania

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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