By Robert Johnson
Goats of all breeds are very hardy animals, and adapt well to a variety of husbandry methods and climates. They are quite disease-resistant, kid easily as a rule, and are ‘easy keepers’ for the most part. However, the time inevitably comes when disease strikes; and there is always the possibility of accidents. This article is designed to assist those of you who may be new to goatkeeping with some suggestions for making the sick or injured goat more comfortable, improving its ability to heal, and giving you something to do until help arrives. It is definitely not intended to replace a veterinarian’s services; but to supplement them. This is a quick guide–not a complete medical treatise! (Excellent books by qualified professionals are available; the International Dairy Goat Registry keeps some of these in stock and can recommend others–write to IDGR. at the address above, or call.)
The giving of hard-and-fast instructions is difficult, as one person may not wish to spend a $25 vet bill on a $10 goat; another may spend hundreds of dollars in the care of a much-loved animal, including one that may have little or no genetic or production merit, or even much chance of recovery from a serious illness or accident. Some things are basic to all animals, however. It is accepted that all dogs should be vaccinated regularly for rabies and distemper – it is just as basic, though less well understood, that all goats should be vaccinated regularly for enterotoxemia.
Before you acquire your first goat, remember the following:
(A) Understand that despite the best of care, some goats will inevitably die–due to either fast-acting, chronic, progressive, or unsuspected diseases, accidents, and genetic errors. (Not to mention old age.) If you cannot bear the loss of a goat, or the sight of blood, you should reconsider animal-keeping.
(B) It is your responsibility to provide not only basic care, food and shelter, but also to prevent un-necessary suffering; and to know when the time has come to put an animal to sleep.
(C) The majority of diseases are probably triggered by stress. Goats establish a ‘pecking order’ (even if there are only 2 goats together) and re-affirm it every day. In a group, the ‘low goat’ should not have to compete for food and shelter or do without, for inevitably, its resistance will be lowered and that, plus stress, will bring on ill health. A very ‘bossy’ goat (there are bullies in goat society, and it is not always the biggest one) needs to be isolated or restrained for the sake of the others. A small and/or timid one needs a special place to be fed and sheltered, or individual attention at feeding time. Now you may understand why leaving the horns on goats is important–horns are designed both to give and absorb blows, and to express ‘social status.’ Very old goats need freedom from harassment also, and an even better diet to compensate for their lessened powers of absorption of feeds, possible dental problems, and slower eating pace. All goats need ‘social space’ just as you do. You might pack 20 Dwarves or Pygmies into a van for a trip; but because they will fit does not mean that they could live in health in a permanent shelter of that size.
(D) It is only prudent to find a sympathetic vet and get a working relationship established early on. This is no easy task, as many of you know; a surprisingly amount of antipathy and indifference to goats is found among veterinarians as well as the public. Happily, this attitude is slowly changing, but it still does persist. You may find an experienced goat or sheep breeder in your area, and often such a person can be of more help than an unsympathetic vet that you feel you must turn to only in a desperate emergency.
(E) You have the responsibility to learn a few basic care procedures, such as taking temperatures, and giving injections. Your vet or a goatkeeping neighbor can show you how to give Sub-Q (under the skin) and IM (in the muscle) injections. Also, look–really look closely–at your goats. It is surprising how often we hear people say ‘I didn’t even know she was sick’ and it is true that often there are not many outward signs–look closely; know your goats.
The healthy goat is bright-eyed, almost always hungry, alert, responsive, active, and possesses a glossy hair coat, bright pink gums, and erect ears (Nubians excepted!) There is a spring to its walk and a lively curiosity about everything. Breathing is steady and not rapid (very hot days excepted.) When resting and not asleep, it will chew its cud a good deal of the time, indicating that rumination is occurring as it should.
The wise goatkeeper will cast his ‘master herdsman’s eye’ over his goats every time he goes among them, (but at least twice a day) looking for signs that something may be amiss. The more noticeable signs of trouble or potential trouble, aside from obvious visible injuries, include:
(1) At feeding time, one of the goats is not eating, or coming up for its meal.
(2) A goat remains in the same place for a long time, during the day (i.e. not just while sleeping.)
(3) A goat is not with its herd mates, and when one searches, the goat is found off by itself, often in a sheltered and/or dark area if such is available. Goats often seek solitude when they feel sick, as do does when labor approaches.
(4) A resting goat (not asleep) does not chew its cud.
(5) You cannot detect the rumen contractions. Resting goats will ruminate 1-3 times per minute, seen as a ‘wave’ or ripple along the goat’s left side.
(6) A goat lies with its head stretched out on its front legs for long periods of time. It may be trying to breathe easier.
(7) A goat stands head down, with its ears, which normally are erect, either ‘airplane’ (pointing out) or down.
(8) A goat stands panting for breath with its mouth open.
(9) A goat stands with its forehead pressed against a post, fence, or tree. (This indicates a headache.)
(10) A goats stands in a ‘tucked up’ posture, back somewhat arched. (Indicates pain in the abdomen.)
(11) There is a nasal discharge, either clear, or yellow and ‘ropey.’
(12) There is a cough that continues indefinitely.
(13) The hair coat is rough, flat, lifeless-looking without sheen or gloss.
(14) Unusual or erratic behavior. Goats suffering from internal disorders may get up, lie down, then get up again, and change positions, trying to get comfortable. They may reach back and rub or lick their sides with their muzzle, or shake their heads. (Does also do this when in labor.)
(15) Dirt or matter around the tail area, suggestive of diarrhea, or vaginal discharge in does.
Goats may exhibit some of these things for brief periods of time. The goat that does not come up to eat with its herd mates may have just stuffed itself with new hay, or found some leftover feed which it finished off; it simply may not be hungry. A goat may have played hard and then sleep deeply for a time, not waking for any thing but a touch or a loud noise. Goats exercising their dominance displays may push their heads against inanimate objects as well as other goats. The key is ‘duration.’ If your goats are used to being fed grain once or twice per day, it is probably not a major worry if one misses one meal; but if that one misses the second meal as well, something may be amiss.
The wise herdsperson also knows that goats (as with people) differ greatly; and he knows their individual traits. For example, some goats can eat ravenously and remain lean; others quickly put on weight; still others may divert their food energy into producing more growth of horns, hooves, and hair. In goats kept for their milk, ‘dairy character,’ which includes the efficient conversion of nutrients into milk (instead of flesh), is a desirable characteristic. Some are constantly alert and curious, poking into things, rarely still; others have a more phlegmatic attitude to life and prefer to sit around, perhaps thinking about how to get more attention from their owners, (or whatever goats think about!) Also, goats are quite intelligent animals, and they learn quickly that a sorrowful attitude or repeated bleating may bring their anxious owner/s rushing out to check on them; they welcome the extra attention!
Most goats do not lie flat on the ground; they rest and sleep in a recumbent position, legs folded beneath them. So rarely do they lie flat that it is a good idea to inspect one such, even though 99% of the time, it may just be napping.
If you have spotted a possible problem, you assess the goat’s condition (use the list above as a guide) and then move it to an isolation area, where it (and you) will not be harassed by its herd mates. (Move injured goats with care, or better, build a barrier of bales of hay or straw around them.) Then before you do anything else, take its temperature. Read the section on Temperature below, right now! (Usually the first thing the vet will ask you if you call is for the temperature.) Whether it is high or low immediately helps with diagnosis; it reduces the range of possibilities by almost half. If the temperature is in the normal range, you have time to evaluate the situation, see what develops and decide what should be done, if anything. If the temperature is high (fever) you can assume that an infection is established; the goat’s attitude and other symptoms will guide you. If the temperature is very low, however, the matter is critical; the goat may be dying, and you must lose no time in taking action and getting help.
While taking the temperature, you look for symptoms of problems. These include:
(1) Diarrhea (scouring)
(3) Eye and/or nasal discharge
(4) Lumps or swellings
(5) Straining to urinate (especially in bucks;) frequent urination; urine very yellow or flecked with blood.
(6) Signs of prolapse–seen as clumps of tissue protruding from the vagina and/or rectum. These actually are portions of the organ everted (turned inside out) and pushed out of the body.
(7) The color of the ‘whites’ of the eyes, and the tongue and gums which should be pink, not white. (see page 6.)
(9) Lameness; may or may not be combined with swelling noticeable in a leg joint.
(10) Unsuspected pregnancy
A depressed, apathetic goat, with or without a fever and/or with no visible or obvious symptoms, is a matter for the vet. There are illnesses that cause no, or few, external signs until they are well-advanced, yet that can be quite serious. For some of these, diagnosis is difficult even for the professional.
Temperature. Goat temperatures are taken with a rectal thermometer. Heavy-glass thermometers are made especially for animal use, but human rectal thermometers are readily available at any drugstore, and are inexpensive; there is no excuse for not having one in the ‘goat medicine cabinet.’ The thermometer should be sterilized (in alcohol or hydrogen peroxide,) wiped clean, the mercury shaken down below 96Ú, and the thermometer inserted 1 to 2 inches into the rectum and left there for at least 2 minutes. Some goats will stand placidly once they realize that this does not hurt; but restraint is advised for the duration in any event, lest something startle the goat and it move suddenly. The normal temperature range for goats is 101-104Ú F. depending on weather, with 102.5Ú the median. It is a good idea to know the normal temperatures of your goats and keep a record. Take their temperatures in summer and again in winter; early in the day, and in mid-afternoon; thus you will know the normal range for each animal.
Goats with fever usually act depressed and will not eat or drink; thus any goat that acts depressed should be checked for dehydration as described below, and if it is present and the goat cannot be tempted to drink, fluids should be given by injection, to ‘buy time’ for the vet to be consulted. If there are no other obvious symptoms present, a great variety of infections are theoretically possible, from mastitis to internal abscesses. (Does with a sore udder half, and/or a discharge of abnormal fluid—watery milk, clots, mucus, or bloody milk—may have one of the many forms of mastitis; therapy choice should be left to the vet.) Give vitamin injection #1 (see page 6.) If fever is high (105° F or over) Banamine may be administered sub-Q.
Be grateful for fever! Fever indicates that the goat is mounting a defense against the invading pathogen. Fever is far preferable to the opposite, a low or falling temperature, which is seen in shock, and with approaching death. Be skeptical of any temperature of 100Ú or lower; repeat the reading to be sure it is accurate, and you have left the thermometer in long enough; once satisfied, seek professional help fast! Few goats with a temperature below 98Ú can be saved, even with heroic therapy.
Diarrhea in adult goats is a special case. Learn to observe the differences in the types of scours (diarrhea) since severe scours in adult goats are genuine emergencies. A goat that produces a clumpy feces instead of the normal pellets, or a thick pasty feces (toothpaste-like, usually green or green-brown) may have simply gotten too much grain. If the goat’s attitude and temperature is otherwise normal, and you see it eating hay and drinking water, and active, you probably need do nothing but observe occasionally to see if the condition worsens. You can offer a mixture of baking soda and beet pulp, and you can get a container of fresh warm water, add a tablespoon of baking soda, and offer it. You should also offer a less-lush roughage hay, even straw. Do not offer grain. Then check your records–has the goat been vaccinated for enterotoxemia in the past 6 months? You can also administer 5cc of Probios gel orally.
If the scours are more liquid, you are likely to also see a change in attitude–the goat may be somewhat depressed, lethargic, less interested in eating or drinking. At this stage, we administer enterotoxemia antitoxin, in a therapeutic dose (see the package instructions.) You may have just vaccinated the goat—doesn’t matter; give the antitoxin anyway and observe the goat for awhile. If incipient entero. was the primary problem, you should see a response in 2-4 hours; the goat should return to eating hay and drinking water. It is critically important that you see the goat drink water; don’t guess. Goats can die from the dehydration caused by scouring rather than from an organism. Scours may persist for a day or so, but feces should gradually return to normal. Never give any grain or concentrates to a scouring goat even if it acts hungry for them; resume feeding grain only a day or so after the feces and attitude have completely returned to normal. You can administer Banamine to help relieve gut pain and stop the scouring.
If scours are clear, watery, and profuse (they may even shoot out in a stream) and/or contain flecks of blood and/or mucus, you have a very sick goat—even though sometimes this comes on so rapidly that the goat looks and acts relatively normal otherwise. Immediately administer a double dose of entero. antitoxin, call the vet, and while waiting, give the goat fluids. Next, give Banamine, preferably IM, and give 1cc of your injectable vitamin A/D. Keep your bottle of epinephrine in your pocket! If you must take your goat to the vet, do these things before you set out.
The administration of 1/2 bottle of Super-Char will help, for some diseases including enterotoxemia produce toxins that cause the primary damage rather than the bacteria itself; and Super-Char will absorb these. It is also indicated in the case of a known or suspected poisoning. Be sure the goat will swallow it. A goat partially in shock, very sick, unconscious, or choking should not be given anything by mouth lest you get it in the lungs.
Diagnosis and selection of an antibiotic should be left to your vet. Sadly, the most effective one, Chloramphenicol, has been prohibited for food-producing animals. Your vet might be persuaded that because your Pygmy, Dwarf or Angora goat is a pet, and since no one will eat it or drink its milk, it would be OK to give Chloramphenicol, which is still legal for cats and dogs. A good rapport with your vet is invaluable at this point, for there are some ‘bugs’ that respond well only to this drug; yet many vets are very wary of using it. Problems other than digestive upsets may also show scouring as part of the symptoms. Don’t assume that a scouring goat always has enterotoxemia.
Dehydration. Insert two clean, dry fingers into the goat’s mouth and collect some saliva, to determine if it is wet, smooth and slippery (like your own) or sticky. Sticky saliva indicates a moderate degree of dehydration; and fluids should be administered. The term ‘fluids’ refers to a balanced electrolyte solution such as Ringer’s or Lactated Ringers’ solution. Fluids are given sub-Q. Warm them to 100-110Ú F (stand the bottle or bag in hot water) and administer them at a fast drip or small stream. Change the injection site from time to time, especially after you see the area begin to swell or ‘pool.’ 15-20cc of fluids per pound for mild dehydration is recommended; a 40-pound goat may need from 1/2 to 3/4 liter of fluids; a 150-pound dairy goat, 2 liters. It is better to administer 1 liter, wait a half-hour to give it a chance to be absorbed, then give another liter. Now take the temperature again. If low, increase the amount of fluids given, and be sure they are a little above body temperature (up to 106Ú.) You may see a positive change in attitude while you are giving the fluids; hopefully, your goat will drink some water. (Keep giving fluids anyway.) Tempt it to drink with warm water held right up to its muzzle–you can even push the muzzle down so the lips and chin touch the water, and often a sick goat will then drink.
In more severe dehydration the goat’s eyes will appear sunken and if you lift a bit of skin and release it, it may not snap back instantly, as it should. These two signs are more unreliable in goats than in other animals; but if present, double the volume of fluids given.
Nasal discharge and/or coughing can occur due to irritants. Some goats have a chronic form of sinusitis, and will often show a slight discharge, especially on cold mornings. But when it is combined with fever, a respiratory infection is suspect. (Take the goat’s temperature!) If fever is high, give vitamin formula #1 (see page 6.) Check for dehydration, and contact your vet.
Lumps and Swellings can have many causes. A swelling may arise at the site of an insect bite or sting, a snake bite, a wound, a hernia, or it may represent an infection. (Pygmies and Dwarves seem more resistant to Mycoplasmas than dairy goats.) A swelling accompanied by a high fever is a matter for your vet to deal with. Give vitamin injection #1. If the swelling is on one of the lymph glands, especially under the ears and behind the jaw, also give vitamin injection #2, and consider adding kelp meal to your free-choice minerals.
Urination abnormalities are caused by various problems. A serious one for bucks is caused by urinary calculi, which can obstruct and eventually stop the flow of urine. A buck observed to strain at urinating, and/or produce only drops instead of a good stream, should be seen by your vet at once. Give vitamin injection #3 and #4. Untreated, the bladder will rupture and death will follow; and it is a miserable and painful way for a buck to die. Your vet will probably treat this with ammonium chloride unless the buck is completely unable to urinate, at which surgery is indicated. Prognosis is not good at this stage. Bloody and/or frequent urination can result from poisoning, a kidney infection, or other disorder; give vitamin shots #1 and #4 and see the vet.
Prolapse fortunately is uncommon in goats; but it does show up in some lines of Nigerian Dwarves and Nubians. The current belief is that the tendency is inherited. Prolapse occurs in various degrees of severity; but all are to be considered as emergencies. Most prolapses occur at or near the time of kidding. Vaginal prolapse is when the vagina everts and protrudes, and is less serious; rectal prolapse is similar. Uterine prolapse, when the entire uterus emerges from the vagina, is quite serious; goats so affected may go into shock and die before help can be obtained. The main concern is to handle the goat with care and keep the prolapse clean; bathe it with warm water, and do not touch it. Try to obtain assistance if the goat must be moved, so that the prolapse can be supported (with a clean cloth or soft paper towel) kept clean and off the ground, and the goat restrained. Give vitamin shots #3 and #4 and see the vet promptly. Does that have prolapsed once are quite likely to do it again with every pregnancy. Such does (and bucks) should not be used for breeding.
Red Blood Count is a measure of the red cells in blood. The normal range, called the ‘packed-cell volume’ or ‘hematocrit’ is 30 to 40. Below 25 the goat is anemic; below 20 the anemia is serious and could be life-threatening. Your vet can determine the red cell count by drawing a blood sample and checking it at his laboratory. Some diseases, some chemicals and drugs, but primarily a parasite burden (most parasites, including external lice, suck blood) causes anemia. You can gain a rough idea by checking the goats’ eyes and gums. There should be a healthy pink (not a white) color around the iris, on the ‘whites’ of the eyes; and the gums and tongue should be bright pink to light red, not pale. When you see pale gums and/or white eyes, look to your deworming records, and give vitamin shots #1, #2 and #4; repeat #2 and #4 twice a week (no more often) for two weeks. Feed beet pulp liberally. If your goats were recently dewormed (within 2-3 weeks) and two or more are anemic, suspect that you may need to change dewormers, especially if you have been using only TBZ. If only one goat is so affected, the problem may not be parasites and the vet should investigate. It is a good idea to administer vitamin shot #2 to your goats at the same time you deworm.
Weakness is associated with severe anemia, or long-untreated disease. A goat that has progressed to the point that it is unable to rise (not due to an accident) is a matter for the vet (and should have been seen by him earlier!) Vitamin shots #1, #2 and #4 may help. A goat that is alert, eating well, bright-eyed, but unable to rise may have a broken hip or other leg bone; often they can find comfortable positions to remain in and will cry out only at being disturbed. Goats must not be allowed to remain in one position for more than a few hours at a time. A goat that cannot or will not rise must be turned from side to side frequently, and stood up (if a broken bone is not the problem) several times per day; a ‘downer’ has a very poor prognosis of standing again. You can rig a sling of cloth (an old towel) to support the entire stomach area, and fasten this to a rope which you pass over a pulley or beam at the ceiling of your barn, thus supporting the goat in a standing position for periods of time without having to bend over while doing so. Goats that have laid flat for hours are highly stressed and susceptible to pneumonia.
Lameness often results from an injury, as goats fight to re-establish their ‘pecking order’ (or try to flee when a dominant one approaches.) More often, untrimmed hooves will cause lameness; sometimes a stone, thorn or nail may become lodged in a hoof and cause favoring of one leg or foot. Inspect the favored member; look closely. Swelling and warmth along the leg can mean a stretched tendon or pulled muscle, or the site of a blow. Swelling at the knee or hock joint, especially if combined with a fever, indicates an infection. Give vitamin shots #1 and #4, and if the goat is eating and otherwise active, try to give it a little space to itself, free from herd mates, so it can eat and rest without harassment. Goats can appear to us to be very cruel, and may harass sick and injured herd mates. Dominant ones may try to take their food, or want their space. This is quite normal behavior. Does should be kept with their kids even if very sick; their will to live is often lost if their kids are taken from them. If they are too sick to exhibit any interest in the kids, and/or if their kids annoy them, pen the kids next to their dam, where she can see and talk to them, but so they cannot bother her.
Unsuspected Pregnancy would not be worth even mentioning, but for the fact that it happens so often–you acquire a goat that you didn’t know was bred (and maybe the source didn’t know either)–or the legendary ‘phantom buck’ has struck again! Goats are such fecund and sexually active animals that they can indeed accomplish seemingly impossible feats of getting together for mating; and since the mating act takes only a few seconds, it is quite often un-noticed. The wise goat owner does not run bucks with does all the time, or in adjacent pens. When the does cycle, they are taken to the buck so that the owner knows the exact day of mating, and when to expect the kids, in order to be on hand in case of problems. Fortunately, pregnancy problems are rare in goats, but there are a whole series of these that theoretically could occur. If you don’t believe, or didn’t know, your doe was bred, you would not think to look for kidding or take extra precautions.
Usually, the visible swelling of the doe (particularly on her right side) is an advance tip. A few days before kidding, the udder will start to swell. However, these signs might be missed. There are does, often first fresheners, that carry a single kid low, and don’t expand greatly. Most breeders know to gradually increase the quantity and quality of feed in the last month of pregnancy; but if you didn’t suspect it, you would not know to do that. As soon as you suspect you have a pregnant doe, give vitamin shots #1 and #2. It will help to re-vaccinate her for enterotoxemia (given two weeks or more before kidding, she will pass greater immunity along to the kid/s in her colostrum) and offer her extra carotene–carrots, the greenest hay you can find, green vegetables, etc.
A wide doe, carrying a number of kids, is at some risk for ketosis. This is easier to deal with if caught in early stages. Though she may look huge, you must gradually increase the amount of grain in her ration up through kidding. At the first sign that her appetite might be tapering off a bit, immediately check her urine with your ketosticks, and give her injections #1, #2, and #4. If she shows a trace of ketones in her urine, you are now committed to a program of doing everything you can to keep her eating carbohydrates–grains, some roughages, and sugars, the latter in the form of molasses or honey in her feed and water. Continue with daily urine tests and injections of B-complex until her urine tests normal and she eats her usual ration willingly and acts hungry for more. If despite this her appetite diminishes and she begins acting lethargic, and/or the urine shows higher ketone levels, call the vet.
Kidding problems have been dealt with in many books and articles, and most goatkeepers eventually learn how to assist with difficult births. Until you have gained such experience, a good rule of thumb is not to allow a doe to remain in unproductive labor for more than an hour without seeking help, from the vet or a neighboring goatkeeper with experience in deliveries. Your responsibilities once the kids are born are: (1) to see that their faces are cleared of mucus and they are breathing normally; (2) to dip their navel cords as soon as possible in a 7% (strong) iodine
solution; and (3) to be certain that they nurse, preferably within a half hour of kidding. Milk a squirt out of each teat to be sure that they are cleared of the ‘plug’ that often forms and that the colostrum appears normal (usually white to a light yellow, and free of clots or blood.) Offer the doe a bucket full of warm water–she has lost a lot of body fluid and heat, and most will drink ravenously. Finally, (4) you should see the doe pass the placenta, which usually will occur within an hour from the arrival of the last kid. If possible, remove and burn or bury it before the doe eats it, which most will if given the chance. If it does not pass within 24 hours, seek the vet’s help–never try to pull on the cords hanging out of the vagina.
Unless the weather is very severe, with 0-degree temperatures, there is no reason to use a heat lamp at kidding; the kids can be rubbed dry (by you) and licked and stimulated (by the doe) and that critical first drink of colostrum is the best ‘warmth’ they can obtain. If the doe ignores or shows signs of rejecting a kid, (which rarely happens, but she may ignore the first one while the second is on the way) keep rubbing it and keep it presented to her. If she does totally reject it, you have a new family member! Milk the doe to get colostrum for the rejected kid and get some into it via. a doll bottle, eyedropper or small nursing bottle, as soon as possible. That will get you past the ‘emergency’ stage; refer to any of the many books and articles on kid-raising—which we hope you have read before the first kids arrive!
THE GOAT MEDICINE CABINET
Basic goat health care items you should have on hand include:
(1) Rectal thermometer (available at drugstores, supermarkets, etc.)
(2) A dozen 3cc disposable syringes with 3/4″ or 1″, 20-gauge needles. Luer-lock syringes are best; the needles are not so likely to come off at the wrong time.
(3) A few 6cc and 12cc syringes with the same size needles.
(4) One or two 30cc syringes (not Luer-lock) for use in giving oral fluids.
(5) One bottle of injectable vitamins A and D, with or without B-12 added. Most commercial forms have 500,000 I.U. of vitamin A and 75,000 I.U. vitamin D per cc.
(6) One bottle of injectable vitamin E. This usually is 200 I.U. per cc.
(7) One bottle of injectable vitamin B-complex, preferably the fortified version with a thiamin potency of 100 mg. per cc. (most feed stores have this)
(8) One bottle of injectable liver, B-complex & B-12. If you can find it, better is a mixture of liver, iron & B-12.
(9) One bottle of injectable iron dextran, if you did not find the liver + iron + B-12 mixture. (available at most feed stores, marketed for baby pigs)
(10) One bottle of injectable vitamin C as sodium ascorbate (not ascorbic acid.) The usual potency available is 250 mg. per cc.
(11) One disposable IV set for giving fluids. This should have a 1″ or 1-1/2″, 18-gauge needle with it; if not, purchase one that will fit.
(12) At least two liters of Ringer’s or Lactated Ringers’ solution (rehydration fluids.)
(13) One bottle of enterotoxemia antitoxin.
(14) One small bottle (1/2 pint or pint) of Sodium Sulfamethazine 12-1/2% (for coccidia.)
(15) One syringe of Probios Bovine One Oral Gel for Ruminants. Alternately, LBA Gel for ruminants is OK.
(16) One bottle of isopropyl alcohol, preferably 90%. (Most rubbing ‘alcohols’ are 50%, some are 70%; 90% is better for sterilizing.)
(17) One bottle of a topical wound dressing. Blu-Kote is a popular one; there are many other good preparations.
(18) Roll of paper towels.
(19) One small bottle of injectable epinephrine.
(20) The dewormers of your (or your vet’s) preference. (We use Albendazole and Ivermectin.)
(21) Supply of injectable enterotoxemia vaccine (Clostridium perfringens types C and D.)
(22) Small bottle of injectable saline diluent or sterile water. (This is for diluting injectable substances.)
If you have a bred doe, add to the above the following:
(23) One package of ketone test strips or tablets for testing urine. (Follow the directions to the letter, and if in any doubt, test again.) Ketostix is one popular brand.
(24) One small bottle of 7% iodine solution.
(25) One doll bottle with rubber nipple.
(26) One large eyedropper, preferably of plastic or polyethylene.
(27) One tube or jar of vaginal gel.
(28) Hot water bottle (you probably have one anyway!)
Buy the smallest available bottles of all medications and drugs. Even if you had 100 or more goats (as we do) the amounts used in therapies are small and, we hope, infrequently needed; obtaining fresh supplies as needed is better than using old ones that may be outdated. You may notice that we have suggested no antibiotics. There are four reasons for this; first, they do have a limited shelf life, and it seems pointless to buy them until you actually need them. Second, until you gain experience, the selection of the ones to use should be left to your vet. Third, their presence creates a great temptation to use them, possibly when they are either un-necessary, or would do more harm than good. Last, the better your husbandry and feeding, the less you should need them! Bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics; if you keep using them for trivial infections, they may be ineffective when they are badly needed for a serious illness.
Your medicine cabinet should also include the following items which are available only on prescription; you will need to obtain them from your veterinarian:
(29) One bottle of injectable Bo-se (selenium-vitamin E preparation.)
(30) One bottle of injectable Banamine (Painkiller, fever-reducer and inflammation fighter.)
(31) One or two bottles of Super-Char-Vet liquid, available from Gulf Bio-Systems Inc., Dallas, Texas. (Curious, isn’t it, that activated charcoal, a totally harmless product, is available only on prescription; but you can buy aspirin–a poison, and a cause of many human deaths annually–anywhere.)
This list could be expanded. As you gain goats and experience you will doubtless add to your medicine chest; this is a very basic list. It omits husbandry items (such as hoof-trimmers) and equipment.
A few notes on these items:
(a) Never give any injection without having the bottle of epinephrine in your pocket, where you can reach for it quickly. Very rarely, a goat will show an allergic reaction to something injected, and go into shock, which proceeds quickly to death unless you administer epinephrine fast! As you know, it never rains until you have washed your car. Likewise, your goats will probably never go into shock following injections until the day you forget to have the epinephrine handy!
(b) Most of the vitamins are stored at room temperature, unless the labels say otherwise.
(c) The entero. vaccine and antitoxin are to be kept refrigerated. Warm to body temperature before administering.
(d) Many of the injectable vitamins will mention IM use. They can all be given sub-Q.
(e) Never mix any vitamins or other substances with injectable antibiotics.
(f) Know the body weight of your goat before you administer any antibiotic or other product.
(g) Some drugs are quite potent, and you may need to give a very small dose for a kid, especially a Pygmy or Dwarf kid. The usual dose of Banamine, for instance, is 1cc per 100 lbs. body weight. A 10-pound goat would thus get only .1cc–a tiny amount; and part of this will stay in the ‘hub’ of the syringe. This will be better dispersed in the goat’s body if you dilute it with saline solution or sterile water to increase the fluid volume. You can add 1cc of saline to anything that you are giving less than 1cc of.
(h) Never give Banamine for more than 3 days in a row (unless on the vet’s instructions) and never give injectable iron or iron-containing mixes more than twice a week; do not overdose with iron. Never give more than 2cc of vitamin A/D per month to a dairy-size goat. Never give Bo-se more than twice a year; or more than 4cc at a time to an adult dairy buck.
(i) Most syringes and needles are intended to be disposable after one use. Can you re-use them? Technically yes—but they are so inexpensive that it is rarely justified. If you must, take them apart and boil them in clean water for 10 minutes; lay them on a plate to air-dry and avoid touching them except with an alcohol-soaked piece of clean paper towel or cloth. Fill the needle guard with alcohol and reassemble the dry syringes into their original holders. (Don’t draw any alcohol up into the syringe, lest you inject it into the next goat!) After 4-5 uses a needle will begin to dull and cause pain; they should be discarded. You can buy the needles separately.
(j) Never put a needle you have used back into a bottle of any preparation until the needle is sterilized. If you want to inject several goats, put a clean needle in the bottle. Unscrew the needle you are injecting with, screw the syringe into the needle in the bottle and draw up the requisite amount, then replace the injection needle, leaving the sterile one in the bottle. When the task is finished, remove this clean needle, to prevent air and contaminants from entering the bottle.
(k) Before inserting a needle into a bottle, wipe the rubber top with a clean paper towel soaked in alcohol.
(l) Always tap your syringe and hold it needle upright to cause any air bubbles to rise to the top; carefully depress the plunger until these bubbles disappear.
The Vitamin Mixtures. Throughout the text we referred to vitamin injection mixtures. These are:
Mixture #1: Into one 3cc syringe, draw 1cc B-complex plus 1cc Liver/B-complex/B-12 (or Liver/Iron/B-12) plus 1/2cc Iron Dextran (unless you have the Liver/Iron/B-12 mixture) plus 1/2cc sodium ascorbate.
Mixture #2: Into one 3cc syringe, draw 1cc vitamin A/D (or A/D/B-12) plus 1cc vitamin E plus 1cc Bo-se.
Mixture #3: Into one 3cc syringe, draw 1cc B-complex plus 1cc A/D (or A/D/B-12)
Mixture #4: Into one 6cc syringe, draw 5cc sodium ascorbate plus 1cc saline or sterile water for injection.
Yes, you can mix injectable vitamins in the same syringe. This saves the goat a lot of stress and trauma from repeated injections, as well as time. Set out the vitamin bottles and insert a clean needle into each one, to vent them, lest there be a vacuum inside. Attach your syringe, draw up the required amount, detach the syringe and, holding the syringe plunger so you will not depress it, attach the syringe to the needle in the next bottle, and so on. Always be sure the bottles are vented; or the vacuum will draw the solution back into the bottle, thus performing an undesirable mixing! Mix these injectables immediately before use—do not ‘pre -mix’ and store injectable mixtures.
Illness in goats can be roughly divided into three major categories: (1) Infectious diseases, (2) metabolic diseases, and (3) accidents and injuries. (There is a fourth category which includes kidding problems, and genetic defects.) Kidding and kidding problems have been well dealt with in a host of books and articles; on the other hand, little is known about the range of inherited problems that can cause losses in goats. It is believed that genetic defects predispose animals to subsequent metabolic problems, and/or increased susceptibility to infections. Fortunately, these two categories make up a very small percentage of health problems in goats.
No goats are native to the American continent. (No, the so-called Rocky Mountain goat is not a true goat; it is a goat-antelope.) Much of this country’s climate is far from ideal for goats, which in general prefer dry climates, whether hot or cold. This is by way of introduction to the fact that one major goat health problem is the respiratory infection complex commonly called pneumonia. Also, because most goats in this country are fed grains and concentrated feeds (something no wild goat ever gets) another major health problem is likely to be gastrointestinal disease. Finally, since goats are kept in semi-confinement (the wild goat ranges over many miles of land,) parasites are a third major source of illness.
(1) Infectious Diseases are caused by a great variety of microorganisms—bacteria, viruses, PPLO (pleuro-pneumonia -like organisms), Mycoplasmas, and other invaders. These organisms may gain entry through wounds, through ingestion of contaminated feeds, through hay and mineral feeders and water sources, direct contact with carriers or other infected animals, or indirectly through contaminated pastures and aerosols. In a healthy animal, the immune system will mount a rapid defense; in fact the immune system of goats, as with people, attacks and destroys hundreds of potentially pathogenic invaders every day, without our ever being aware of this process. It is when an infection overwhelms the immune system and gains the upper hand that illness becomes manifest, and visible to the watchful herds person. The immune response is responsible for the fever, among other aspects of illness, and since the elevated body temperature will kill off many invading organisms, it is not a good idea to rush right out and give a fever-reducing drug like aspirin or Banamine at the first signs of illness. As a reliable rule of thumb, a temperature of 104-1/2° F. or above can be considered a true fever and an indication of illness. Fever-reducing drugs should be used only if the temperature is high (105-1/2° F. or more) or has remained over 104-1/2° for a day, especially in normal or cold weather. A drop in a high fever is an indication that an antibiotic given is working.
Pneumonias are listed by many vets as either the most, or second most, common disease in goats they are asked to treat; and cause more losses than any diseases except parasite infestation. There are many organisms that cause respiratory infections. Most of the time, symptoms are obvious—nasal discharge, labored breathing, reluctance to exercise or move, fever—but some pneumonias baffle even professionals as they produce no visible or noticeable symptoms until just before death; and sometimes in the terminal stages diarrhea is seen as the only indicator of a problem. It is wisest to leave the choice of which antibiotic to use up to your vet. If you absolutely cannot get veterinary help quickly, and the signs point to a respiratory disease, you can give one of the oxytetracyclines (Terramycin, or LA-200) or the combination of Gentocin and Amoxicillin, or Tylan, in that order of choice. A positive response in hours indicates you may be on the right track, and the medication can be continued, as outlined on the bottles and/or the package inserts. If you see no favorable response, you should seek professional help. All vets have their preferences in antibiotics and may have definite opinions about the types of pathogens that they are called to deal with in the area they serve; this information is not to be taken lightly.
This is not to say that you should rush out and give an antibiotic (or call the vet) for a coughing goat. In the absence of other signs, coughing could be caused by an irritant, dust, lungworms, or a chronic condition, and antibiotics (which are stressors, and not without side effects) would have no effect.
(1-A) Gastrointestinal diseases can be caused by pathogenic bacteria, as well as internal parasites. (We list poison-ing under metabolic diseases.) Excellent de-wormers are available, and checking fecal samples for parasites is something any vet can do quickly and easily. However, often there are individual goats that have greater susceptibility to parasites and may require more frequent de-wormings than their pen mates. Also, the more goats kept in any given area, the greater the build-up of parasites and the higher the general infection level. Climatic conditions in different parts of the country cause great variations in the parasite population density. Therefore it is impractical to give general rules for deworming. Changes in eye and gum color occur long before the hair coat becomes rough; hair changes slowly, and rough hair coat can accompany other diseases. Two critical times for deworming are (1) within a week after does have kidded, and (2) again in the fall a couple of weeks before the breed-ing season. The need for additional deworming must be determined by routine inspections of the eyes and gums. If bred does must be dewormed, it is best to wait until the last trimester of pregnancy. We use Albendazole, alternating with Tramisol or Ivermectin once in the summer; we reserve other dewormers for special uses (Camvet or Panacur for tapeworm, Panacur for lungworm,) but in this brief summary we can’t go into depth on the subject; we have a separate article on them available. Dewormer residues will neither help nor hurt the nursing kids.
One final word on parasite control. The finest dewormers in the world are of no value on your, or the store, shelves; they must be used! If you think this is too obvious to mention, then talk with your vet—most vets will tell you that they see more parasite problems than any other in goats!
Other gastrointestinal problems usually fall into two categories–(1) enterotoxemia (over-eating disease) and (2) everything else! Entero. is a quick killer—the first thing you see is usually a dead goat—and it is extremely difficult to treat, with only a moderate success rate; but easy to prevent, by vaccination, which is inexpensive. We will not mince words here–it is supremely stupid or callow not to vaccinate your goats for enterotoxemia. Vaccines will not prevent the disease from developing 100% of the time; some failures to ‘take’ may occur, and a goat may find and break into the grain supply and consume enough concentrates to overwhelm its ability to resist the disease; but 95% of the time, vaccination is effective; and will protect the goat from such an overload long enough for you to find it still alive, and get help. A more uncommon pathogen is Salmonella, which can occur in the cleanest and best-managed herds (your vet may tell you that it is only found in filthy and crowded conditions) and which also causes a profuse watery diarrhea, often with blood and/or mucus, rapid dehydration, often perforation of the intestinal walls, and death. Scouring in kids can be due to a variety of things (too much milk, coccidia, etc.) but in adults, it is more often serious; enterotoxemia and Salmonella are first suspects.
(2) Metabolic problems arising in goats are often indicators of improper management or nutrition. Deficiency diseases caused by lack of some elements in the goat’s diet would not arise if all the needs were met; but as with human nutrition, much misinformation still circulates. The incidence of such problems as ketosis, milk fever, failure to breed or delivery of few, and/or weak kids can be kept to a minimal level if goats are supplied with adequate protein and energy feeds, containing or supplemented by all the known vitamin precursors, and the minerals. All ruminants have high requirements for salt; goats have a high metabolic rate and very high mineral requirements by comparison with cows and sheep. The old beliefs about the ability of goats to eat anything die hard; they are capable of ingesting a greater variety of plants than any other animal, but in truth they are fussy eaters with good instincts for selecting for their needs. They can, of course, be so starved that they will eat anything—as can any animal. The goat you see eating grass, dry soiled hay, or chewing labels off cans, is trying to obtain nutrients it needs and isn’t getting. Poisoning can be considered a management problem; only malicious poisoning is an exception. The curious and inquisitive nature of goats causes them to explore and taste everything in their environment. Knowing this, the goat keeper must see that they have no possible access to poison chemicals or plants.
‘You are what you eat’–and so are your goats. Books are devoted to animal nutrition; many articles have appeared and two rather lengthy ones by the author are available from the IDGR. In brief: the primary goat food should be good-quality legume hay, and it should be available free-choice all year around. Given large areas of dense brush and scrub, goats may obtain much of their nutrient requirements by browsing; but in any event they should have dry hay offered them first thing daily before they are let out on browse. Never feed Fescue hay; and consider that sun-browned hay, old hay, and all-grass hays are mainly of roughage value only. Moldy hays can be toxic. Concentrates (grains and grain mixtures such as dairy rations) should be thought of as supplements, never as the main part of the diet. Miniature goats run to fat easily, and if the quantity and quality of browse, hay, and supplementary minerals is high enough, grain is really not necessary except to does just prior to kidding, and throughout lactation—does being milked will require supplemental concentrates for milk production, especially in the first half of lactation. Otherwise, concentrates should be thought of as appetizers and carriers of vitamins. Plenty of fresh clean water should be always available. Obvious? Yes–but time after time we see buckets of dirty water that obviously haven’t been changed, in pens. Last, minerals are required, and should be fed free-choice, and always in loose form—no blocks. At a minimum, loose iodized salt, baking soda, and a goat trace mineral mix should be offered in a three-compartment feeder, always kept clean and accessible. An improvement to this would be by the addition of a fourth compartment for kelp meal. Put out only small amounts at a time, lest they cake up and become soiled.
The first time soda or trace minerals are offered to goats that have been deprived of them, owners are often startled by the quantity they will consume. Don’t worry–they will regulate their intake, as long as the supplies offered are clean, replaced regularly, and do not contain sweeteners designed to stimulate consumption. Minerals should not be included in grain-based concentrates; the rule of thumb is to feed vitamins in the grain and minerals free-choice.
Much metabolic disease can be prevented if the goats’ rations contain some live-cell yeast (such as Diamond V) and some dried beet pulp (available in most feed stores.) The yeast supplies vitamins and minerals in highly assimilable forms and feeds the beneficial bacteria in the goat’s rumen, increasing absorption. Beet pulp helps ‘bulk up’ a hungry goat’s ration, preventing overeating; in addition it supplies iron and calcium. Also, the beneficial effects of carotene (the precursor of vitamin A) have been known for years; we feed carrots as often as possible. Try this if you want your goats’ coats to look as if they have been waxed and polished.
Wild cherry leaves, azalea, laurel, rhododendron, green oak leaves, jimsonweed and nightshade are all highly poisonous plants. Once they have fallen and turned brown, oak and cherry leaves are not toxic, but usually unpalatable. There are many other poisonous plants; your county agent will provide, usually free, a booklet or list of these for your area. Lead poisoning is common, since often old boards with lead-based paints are used to construct stalls and mangers, and also, gasoline and oil spills (often from refueling mowers or tractors) happen inside pastures. Lead is palatable to goats and can remain in the environment indefinitely. There are hundreds of other toxic substances, including many common products used around the home. Any detailed discussion of poisons and their treatments would be lengthy; and would be futile unless the suspected substance can be identified—this is the primary problem in diagnosis and treatment of poisoning. Poisons vary greatly in their modes of action, and degree of severity including by the quantity ingested. The goatkeeper’s responsibility is to presume first that the goat has eaten something deadly, get it to a vet, and then search for the source, unless this is obvious.
(3) Accidents and injuries are usually obvious; the primary responsibilities are to stop the flow of heavy bleeding, minimize stress–isolate the goat, get aid, (if the problem is more than superficial wounds,) then watch for shock until the vet arrives. By ‘isolate’ this does not necessarily mean that the goat should be moved, if it is badly injured (unless of course it is in a dangerous location such as out on a road;) rather, barriers (which can be of bales of hay) should be erected to keep herd mates away. It should be gently moved until its head is uphill or raised; it may be blocked into a comfortable position with bales or wedges of hay or straw. Often badly-injured goats will recover, given good care; alternately, the duty to end or mitigate suffering is clear. Animals in deep pain from physical injuries can be helped by giving them an injection of Banamine (1 to 1-1/2cc per 100 pounds body weight, IM or sub-Q) which is always preferable to trying to force oral painkillers such as aspirin down them. If only aspirin is available, crush tablets and mix 6x the human dose with the smallest amount of water it will dissolve in, and apply this with a dosing syringe (a regular syringe without a needle is OK) as a drench, a little at a time, keeping the head level (not raised) and observing that the goat swallows.
More than one goat-owner has said that if they had first read a veterinary book on goat illnesses, they would have been ‘scared off’ from ever owning goats! Fortunately, while the theoretical possibilities are numerous, the average goat-owner will see very few problems in his herd, and most of these of common types. Prevention is always easier than cure. Feed and house your goats well; check them daily; and try to eliminate sources of anxiety and stress for them, and Nature and their own wonderful ability to heal, and to resist problems, will do the rest.