Pygmy goats part 5: Health matters
Whilst running the risk of stating the obvious, a goat’s health is entirely the responsibility of the owner: this is a fact stated in law, covering all keepers of livestock. Fines for non-compliance can be quite hefty. (Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Welfare of Farm Animals 2007)
The environment in which it is kept has to be right and makes a major contribution to good health. Having said that, even on the best of smallholdings, things can go wrong: this could range from the occurrence of accidents to the presence of disease. Nothing can be completely predicted but everything can be prevented from deteriorating further by prompt action. Never adopt the attitude of “Let’s leave it and see what happens” The sooner help is sought, the greater the chances of recovery. This particularly applies to ill animals requiring veterinary assistance.
No-one knows your animals better than you and regular observation can often detect early signs of distress. If you know what is normal behaviour, you will instantly appreciate what is not. Powers of observation can also be aided by a knowledge of normal values.
Body Temperature 39 – 39.5c (102 – 103f)
Heart Rate 70 – 95 beats per minute
Respiration rate 10 – 30 breaths per minute
Rumen movement 1 -1.5 per minute
Body Temperature is taken via the anus by gently inserting the thermometer which has been lubricated slightly. Leave in for at least one minute. A digital thermometer is far easier to read and to handle. Available from any agricultural merchants.
Heart Rate can be generally assessed by placing the hands just below the elbows and on the either side of the goat’s chest. The use of a stethoscope is more accurate and can be purchased for a nominal fee.
Respiration Rate can be determined by observing the movements of the chest and the flanks.
Rumen Movement is the hardest to work out and is more accurately diagnosed by a vet using a stethoscope. A rough guide can be sought by pressing your fist into the rumen between the end of the rib cage and the pelvic bone on the left hand side of the goat.
Recognising illness in goats
General lack of interest and energy
Goats are naturally inquisitive creatures and any indication of indifference on their part, together with a noticable lack of energy should be interpreted as a danger signal.
A goat’s temperature is a good indication of whether there is anything to worry about. It should not vary vastly from normal (39.5 C). A lowering of temperature can be more serious than one which is slightly higher.
Grinding of teeth
If a goat grinds its teeth and looks generally distressed, it is a common indication that it is experiencing a certain degree of pain, especially if accompanied with looking around at its flanks.
Diarrhoea and scouring
Any scouring, especially in young kids, should be taken seriously and not left for too long before seeking a diagnosis. It may well be the initial indication of a number of different problems.
Dull looking eyes with perhaps a tendency to drop the head
A goat in good health is responsive and bright eyed. A lack of response with lack-lustre eyes is a sure fire indication that something is wrong and should be acted upon.
Moving away from the rest of the herd
An animal about to kid, for instance, if out with the rest of the herd will naturally move away from them in order to find a quiet spot, free from interference or possible predators in order to give birth in peace.
Older ones may also adopt this behaviour as, when they are getting on in age, they can often be bullied by the rest.
On the other hand, it could simply be that they are feeling just ‘one degree under’. Whatever the cause, they need to be watched closely.
This is a prime indicator of ill health as goats are normally greedy little devils, never missing any opportunity to eat themselves silly. If the lack of interest in feeding is sustained, help should definitely be sought without hesitation. However, first of all, ensure that any goat displaying such an indifference hasn’t had access to the feed bin without one’s knowledge, now matter how unlikely.
Lack of cudding activity
Lack of cudding activity is not always easy to determine and if suspected
the animal concerned should be observed over a period of time. Goats, being creatures of habit, tend to follow a regular pattern of joint grazing and communal cudding periods so one that is not in tune with the rest should be spotted reasonably quickly.
Coughing and/or nasal discharge. Difficulty breathing
Keep a very close eye on a goat which displays bouts of coughing over a sustained period, particularly if accompanied with a nasal discharge. Difficulty in breathing requires immediate attention.
Discolouration of urine
Discolouration of urine needs to be taken seriously. Much depends on the nature of the discolouration. It could be the result of eating oak leaves, for instance, or it could be an indication of cystitis or kidney problems if there appears to be blood mixed with the urine. The urine could also smell unpleasant. More often than not, an appropriate antibiotic clears up most problems.
Bloated sides, especially on the left.
Sometimes, if goats are turned out onto wet grass without having first had the opportunity to fill their rumens with hay, or, if they have been allowed to graze for too long, when brought in can look like little balloons. They have not yet passed out the accumulated gas from the rumen. Don’t panic too soon as often the gas will be expelled in due course. If, on the other hand, the goat is showing obvious signs of stress and pain, then act immediately. (see later notes)
Goat in obvious state of stress
Calm down, do not panic, remove the goat from the rest of the herd and give it a thorough examination to determine the cause of stress.
If unsuccessful, or if deemed necessary, call for the vet. immediately.
Frothing at the mouth
Could be caused by a number of things, ranging from choke to poisoning.
(see further notes on poisoning)
Any unusual gait needs to be examined thoroughly to determine the cause and appropriate action taken.
Should any of the above symptoms present themselves and you feel that veterinary assistance is required, then do not hesitate. As we all know veterinary help is expensive but early intervention can often prevent further complications and the avoidance of higher bills.
Emergency First Aid Treatment
Emergency first aid treatment is administered only as a temporary measure and if the vet. is not immediately available. In my view, if the vet. is not likely to be at hand for some time, then there are certain occasions when emergency action is necessary. These are:
This can be caused either by ingesting industrial materials such as lead in paint, preservative which is still wet on stable doors, fuel or nitrate poisoning etc.
More often than not, poisoning in goats is the result of eating poisonous plants or leaves from trees or bushes. There is a wide range of these, giving rise to a variety of symptoms. Goat keepers would be well advised to buy a book on the subject, for example HMSO publication no.161 ‘Poisonous Plants in Britain’ or to look on the internet for further information.
If the goat has a full rumen of grass or hay, the poison will be diluted in the rumen and will have less of an effect. The same is true if only a small amount of the plant has been ingested. This can only be determined by the symptoms displayed. If there happens to be any residual leaves etc around the goat’s mouth, try and save them. If you are certain of the type of plant eaten, tell the vet on his/her arrival.
Rhododendron poisoning is the most common and one of most serious, as little is required before symptoms present themselves. Laurel and yew are equally as dangerous. Symptoms include frothing at the mouth, retching and depression.
Ragwort poisoning, oak leaf poisoning, fruit tree leaf poisoning and foxglove poisoning can also have serious consequences, especially if large amounts are consumed.
Fruit tree leaf poisoning is not always appreciated. When fresh the leaves are harmless but when dry and wilted they contain hydrogen cyanide. Beware therefore of letting goats into orchards, especially once the leaves begin to die and fall off the trees.
Drenching with cold tea or coffee may help in an emergency. However, be careful if oak leaves are thought to be the cause of poisoning as they contain an excess of tannin and drenching with tea/coffee could aggravate the situation.
Do not drench or give any liquid if the goat is still vomiting or retching as this could cause the animal to suffocate.
Bloat (Ruminal Tympany)
Carbon dioxide and methane gases from fermentation in the rumen are normally eliminated during belching, but if the gases cannot be removed, pressure builds up and the left flank becomes distended producing an enlarged rumen, which can result in the goat experiencing difficulty in breathing. Causes include:
Choke – obstruction in the oesophagus. An object of food material sticks in the oesophagus, which prevents belching and could result in a build-up of gases in the rumen. The vet, on arrival, will try to relax the oesophagus by administering a muscle relaxant or attempt to dislodge the obstruction by passing a stomach tube down.
Eating foods such as long wet grass in quantity over a short period of time or too much cabbage or other greens.
Froth formation, associated with certain forages such as Lucerne. The gas in the rumen takes the form of thousands of bubbles which is difficult to belch up. Hence the name, ‘frothy bloat’. This is the most common form of bloat.
The left flank is distended and the goat shows obvious signs of discomfort, such as grinding of its teeth, crying, kicking or sometimes it may display difficulty in breathing.
Prevent the animal from eating anything further. Keep the goat on the move and, if possible, with its front legs higher than the back. Carefully drench with 50ml of vegetable oil. Keep the head level when drenching.
Proprietary silicone drenches are also available and would be worth including in your first aid kit. Do not attempt to tube the goat unless you know what you are doing.
The delicate balancing of the bacteria in the rumen will be affected and has to be restored either by giving live yogurt or ‘pro-rumen’ a proprietary probiotic. Seek your vet’s advice.
Do not let goats graze for too long a time on lush, rapidly growing pasture. Restrict the time that they are allowed to graze on such. Never turn out hungry goats onto rich pasture: make sure that they have a rumen full of hay beforehand. This may well mean keeping them inside for the morning and only letting them out for a period in the afternoon, especially in the springtime.
Profuse Bleeding caused by an accident
Apply direct pressure over the wound using a pad of cotton wool and bandage. Sustain pressure until the vet arrives.
A Goat keeper’s essential first aid box
A digital thermometer
A range of syringes and small gauge needles
Pair of scissors
Roll of lint and cotton wool
Different widths of crepe bandages (easier to manage than cotton ones)
Small and large spoons
Hibiscrub (antibicrobial skin cleanser)
Aloevera gel ( healing gel)
Lectade power (for dehydration )
Pro-rumen oral powder (probiotic)
Kaogel (initial treatment of diarrhoea)
Vegetable oil and bicarbonate of soda (initial treatment of bloat) or
A proprietary silicone bloat drench.
Nursing a sick goat
To quote Joan and Harry Shields authors of ‘A Modern Dairy Goat’
“No amount of drugs, injections or other treatment alone will cure: the secret of success lies in the correct use of these combined with careful nursing”
First of all, make sure that, as far as possible, an accurate diagnosis of the problem has been made, preferably by a veterinary surgeon. The sooner that any sign of illness is recognised and treatment started, the speedier the recovery will be. Make sure that all medication is in place and that administration instructions are clear and that you feel confident to carry them out. Don’t ever be afraid to ask the vet. again if you have forgotten anything and be clear of the time scale envisaged before improvement is anticipated or a follow-up visit will be necessary.
Goats are gregarious animals and, unless for medical reasons they have to be completely isolated, company is of the essence. Fellow creatures, allowed to come and go during the day helps to relax a sick goat. The worst thing that you can do is to leave it alone in the mistaken belief that quiet and peace aids recovery. It doesn’t. Spend as much time as is feasible with it. Even install a radio, as daft as this sounds, it does appear to aid relaxation.
A sick goat may well suffer from shock for quite a period of time. Low body temperature can for instance be an indication of poisoning, or an accident or difficult birth can leave an animal shivering and cold. It depends on the action of bacteria breaking down fibrous foods in the rumen to generate and maintain body temperature. Thus an inactive rumen through loss of appetite renders the goat with no natural means of keeping warm. The first thing, therefore, is to try and provide the necessary warmth. Maintaining the normal body temperature of a sick goat is best achieved by covering it with a warm coat. If a goat coat is not at hand, an old blanket or travel rug would suffice. A heat lamp, placed at least about one and a half metres above its head, may well help.
DO NOT be tempted to close all windows and doors in an attempt to maintain heat. This will create additional problems not only for the sick goat but for others sharing its accommodation. Excess moisture and gasses can build up, which would create respiratory problems for all of the goats present. Good draught free ventilation is absolutely essential.
Deep straw bedding generates warmth and excellent insulation. Build up the sides of the pen with a good straw layer and if necessary, slide sections of straw gently down the side of the goat to prevent it lying flat if it is immobile, as such a position would be detrimental for the lungs and digestive system.
Once feeling or looking better, it must be tempted to eat as an inactive rumen is bad news. Top quality hay has been found to be the best suitable forage to encourage rumen activity. Concentrates should be held in abeyance until the goat has started to cud again. The vet may well recommend the use of a preparation such as ‘Pro-rumen’ to reactivate the rumen. It is also a probiotic, helping to build up the good bacteria and fluid intake. Good quality, fibrous foods offered in small quantities at regular intervals should be the aim to aid recovery.
Bran mash or an oatmeal drink is sometimes appreciated. Ivy leaves act as a tonic and is seldom rejected if offered in small quantities. Any tempting tit-bits such as comfrey, blackberry leaves or raspberry leaves, willow or beech leaves can be tried. My goats, for instance, love dried pasta under normal circumstances. Anything usually appreciated should be tried but do not offer too much and certainly don’t leave uneaten food in the pen for long periods as it will very soon lose its appeal.
It is important to try and get the goat drinking as much as possible as soon as possible. Warm water rather than cold will not compromise the goat’s body temperature. An occasional drench of electrolytes such as lectade can aid recovery. Check with your vet first, but if necessary use a drench to ensure an intake of water – little and often.
Cider vinegar has a reputation of being a ‘cure all’ remedy and many goat keepers swear by it for a number of ailments. In theory, it should aid in maintaining correct rumen acidity. It may well be worth a try as an aid to recovery.
A goat, believe it or not, can slip into a state of depression, especially if feeling under the weather for any length of time. They are not great fighters. It sometimes needs the presence of some of its own family to encourage it back into action again. Try turning it out with its ‘best mates’ for a while. Self pity is not the prerogative of humans!
If an illness occurs after a difficult kidding, introducing her slowly to her own kid/s if they have been bottle fed for a while, or even a foster kid, may serve to cheer her up and restore her interest in getting better. Never give up if a doe initially rejects her kid/s, especially after a c-section or difficult birth. Keep them in a large dog cage in close proximity to her, take the kids out for bottle feeding and them put them back into the cage. Just seeing her kids can work wonders and more often than not, she will eventually accept them. Be patient and don’t give up too soon.
It is beyond the brief of this section to go into detail on the diseases of the goat, as they are many and varied. I am not a vet. and therefore do not feel qualified to do so. However, I have mentioned the three situations when in my view direct action would be necessary and am confident that my advice is sound.
I would wholeheartedly recommend a book written with the lay person in mind by David Harwood, a very experienced and well respected veterinary surgeon entitled ‘Goat Health and Welfare – a veterinary guide’ ISBN 1 86126 824 6, can be found on Amazon.
It deals with every aspect of goat health and welfare, with an abundance of photographs and drawings to illustrate points made. An essential read for anyone who genuinely cares about the well being of their animals.
‘Pygmy Goats – Management and Welfare’ Lorrie Boldrick D.V.M. A.K.A. And Lorrie Blackburn D.V.M. All publishing Company, California 1996
‘The Goatkeepers’ Veterinary Book’ Peter Dunn (third Edition) Farming Press 1994
‘Goat Health and Welfare – A veterinary Guide’ David Harwood The Crowood Press 2005
‘Nursing a Sick Goat’ Jenny White ‘Best of Notes’ Dinefwr Press 2007
Part 6 Breeding
Part 1 – Before buying your goats
Part 2 – Providing the appropriate environment
Part 3 – Routine tasks
Part 4(a) – Nutrition – the ruminant stomach
Part 4(b) – Nutrition – feeding according to need
Part 5 – Health
Part 6 – Introduction to breeding
Part 7 – Attending shows
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