Let’s Talk About B Vitamins for Goats

Exploring Vitamin B1 and Vitamin B12 for Goats.

Let’s Talk About B Vitamins for Goats

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What are the roles of B vitamins for goats, and how do you recognize vitamin B deficiency symptoms in goats?

The B vitamin complex is something we hear about quite a bit regarding our own nutritional needs. This series of vitamins play a wide array of roles in a healthy body and metabolism. For people and most animals, we must consume them daily. Goats, on the other hand, are a bit luckier. Thanks to their rumens, they can produce their own B vitamins. 

The two most notable in the goat world are vitamin B1 (thiamine) and vitamin B12 (cobalamin). When either of them is lacking for whatever reason, the consequences can be severe and even deadly. But one of the positives when dealing with any of the B vitamins is that the remedy is fairly easy. Because these particular vitamins are water-soluble, it is tough to overdose an animal to the point of toxicity. The body will naturally excrete the excess if fed or injected, but identification and treatment at the correct times are key. 

Functions and deficiency 

Thiamine and cobalt play different but vital roles in the goat’s system. Thiamine is responsible for carbohydrate metabolism and neural (brain-related) cells and activity. On the other hand, cobalamin (with the central atom cobalt) is essential in the building up and support of red blood cells. When fighting off a worm load, cobalt is essential to prevent or recover from anemia. Some external signs of deficiency could include symptoms like loss of appetite and weepy eyes. 


Because these vitamins are produced in the rumen, digestive issues can greatly inhibit their levels in the goat. Suppose a goat is recovering from a serious rumen issue, such as acidosis, or is sick enough to go off feed for a while. In that case, you can expect B vitamin levels to be suboptimal. This is especially dangerous for very young kids who do not yet have a fully functional rumen

Goat polio, properly known as polioencephalomalacia, is the most significant consequence of a thiamine deficiency. We should note that despite its name, this condition has nothing to do with polio in humans. Goat polio is simply a neurological disorder and swelling of the brain that typically comes from insufficient thiamine levels, but it can have other causes. Goats suffering from polio will have an unusual gait, difficulty holding their heads, and blindness.   


Goat polio does mimic some other severe goat conditions (such as listeriosis). However, because thiamine is safe to give, it should always be the first response to these symptoms. If the goat doesn’t recover shortly after supplementation, investigate other causes.  


Treatment for B vitamin deficiencies in goats is fairly simplistic. If a goat has gone off feed, struggling with a large wormload, or showing any polio symptoms, owners should give an injection of fortified B complex. (Fortified is important because it ensures that thiamine levels are adequate.) 

Again, because excess B vitamins can be excreted, toxicity is extremely unlikely to be incurred. For anemic goats, especially if it is a routine occurrence, cobalt can also be fed as a supplement over some time as an alternative to repeat injections. For these cases, a vet can take a blood sample to understand the extent of the deficiency. Some areas have soils richer in cobalt and may not need to require therapeutic feeding. 


As with many products on the market, vitamin B supplements and injections are limited in what is specifically labeled for goats. With many product recommendations for goat producers, always consult a vet before going off the label. 


Administrator-GL. (n.d.). Vitamin B12 and Vitamin B1. Goat. https://goat-link.com/content/view/172/30/.  

Gasparotto, S. W. (2010, October 3). B VITAMINS and THEIR IMPORTANCE TO GOAT HEALTH. https://www.tennesseemeatgoats.com/articles2/BVitamins06.html.  

Polioencephalomalacia. Sheep & Goats. (n.d.). https://www.canr.msu.edu/sheep_goats/health/polioencephalomalacia.  

Originally published in the September/October 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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