A Story on Patent Urachus
A rare umbilical cord complication in newborn goats.
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Medically, a urachus is the remnants of a tube that connects the fetal urinary bladder, through the belly button, to the amniotic sac. It is how the fetus urinates during the first few weeks of gestation. During normal development, as the pregnancy progresses this channel is sealed off. The tube then becomes a fibrous cord between the bladder and the belly button called the median umbilical ligament.
Patent urachus is a syndrome that occurs when this opening does not seal off correctly and urine leaks through the umbilical cord. It can be a congenital defect but can also occur related to birthing trauma causing tension on the umbilicus or partial urethral obstruction. In some instances, it can even happen when the cord stump is damaged enough that the tube reopens.
A friend of a friend had a doe born with patent urachus, and I, being the anatomy and physiology nerd that I am, was instantly interested and just a little emotionally invested. I did a deep web dive to learn more about the finer details, then reached out to Julie Peterson, the famous goat guru of my area and owner of the goat.
“Be cool,” I thought and cold-called her. Thankfully Julie was more than happy to answer my questions and share her experience with me.
The mother of the doeling was a 2018 Nubian goat that Julie had retained for her breeding program. Last year she had a single kid unassisted; it was her first freshening. The birth had gone great and both mom and kid were doing well.
“We do normally three-hour checks on our newborn kids and this doeling was born late in the afternoon. So, at the next check, we noticed wetness around the cord.” At first, Julie thought it might be bleeding. The dam was being attentive to her kid, and the cord was short from her cleaning the site. “After the baby nursed, we witnessed a stream of clear liquid from her belly. We were shocked and we double-checked that she was indeed a doeling.”
Common signs of patent urachus are incontinence, urine leaking from the belly button, urine scalds on the belly, and lasting umbilical wetness. Julie googled her concerns and came up with a tentative diagnosis. She also reached out to other local goat owners and spoke with her daughter who was doing pre-vet work at the state university, who confirmed the diagnosis.
She found some information online about horses with patent urachus, but not much about goats with the condition. The situation in foals, luckily, usually corrects itself within 72 hours as the opening heals and closes. If it doesn’t, vet care is needed. Julie planned to call the vet and set up an appointment the next morning if there were no signs of improvement.
At the next three-hour check, they saw the doeling urinate out of both the belly button hole and her urethra, so they knew she had the ability to go normally. The doe was healthy, happy, and behaving normally so Julie penned her up in a clean stall with her dam and they monitored the situation.
The next day, 24 hours later, the doeling urinated normally, signaling that the hole had closed. “There were definitely cheers,” Julie reported. “She went on to be a normal, healthy goat without any further medical concerns.”
Anyone who has spent time watching for a specific goat to do a specific behavior related to a health concern can relate to Julie’s relief. Goats do not like to perform while we are watching. The waiting game is certainly a nerve-wracking one.
In rarer cases, the opening does not heal and the kid continues to urinate from its belly button. When the area does not close on its own, the animal is more likely to get urine scald or an infection. Creams can be used as a barrier to discourage scalding, and broad-spectrum antibiotics could be given to fight or treat an infection. Interestingly, vets can prescribe antibiotics that are more concentrated in the urine to help with antibiotic access to the infection site.
If an infection is the result or cause of patent urachus, a veterinarian needs to be on board. Not all types of antibiotics can treat this kind of infection and the ones that do may require the vet to monitor kidney function and enzyme level. It can become serious if not treated correctly.
Patent urachus is not as common as some other kinds of kidding crises, so it’s not as spoken about in goat circles. But it’s still an absolutely interesting condition to learn about, a great talking point, and an excellent addition to anyone’s knowledge base.