Back From the Vet: Common Conditions of the Udder

Back From the Vet: Common Conditions of the Udder

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Whether you are raising goats for fun or they are a serious business, there is no denying that successful does require a healthy udder. Through the udder, does are able to raise happy and healthy kids, as well as supply milk for human consumption and desirable products like cheeses and soap. It is safe to say a healthy udder is key to a productive and happy goat herd.  

There are a variety of conditions that affect the mammary glands of goats. Some conditions, such as precocious udder and udder edema, are not necessarily serious in and of themselves. Some conditions, like clinical mastitis, require hasty medical attention to ensure successful resolution. Being able to appropriately identify common conditions affecting the udder of goats in your herd is valuable tool as a goat owner.  

Precocious udder is pre-mature or inappropriate development of the mammary glands. Though the cause of the condition is not fully understood, it occurs most commonly in heavy milking breeds and tends to affect over-conditioned animals. These animals can be unbred, or even maiden does. The enlargement of the udder is primarily caused by fat deposition though there can also be milk production. Treatment, provided the udder enlargement is not causing pain to the goat, is primarily monitoring. The animals should not be milked, as this opens the teat canals and increases the risk of mastitis. If the animals are on a heavy grain ration, this should also be decreased to slow the production of milk. Often these are young growing does, so care should be taken not to decrease the ration to the point of interfering with growth. Precocious udder, though not of itself a serious condition, should be carefully monitored to prevent more serious disease from occurring. Should you have a goat with precocious udder that is not improving, or is becoming painful, consult with your veterinarian to devise an appropriate plan for treatment. 

Udder edema is another cause of abnormal enlargement of the udder. It is quite common in goats, especially directly after birth in maiden does. Udder edema is generally symmetrical, non-painful swelling of the udder. The udder “pits” when a finger is pushed into it. Milk will also be normal in an animal with udder edema. Though udder edema is most commonly seen in recently fresh animals, it can also be seen in animals with hypoproteinemia, trauma, or dependent edema. In newly kidded does, the condition is usually self-limiting. Animals exhibiting udder edema that have not recently kidded should be investigated for a cause of low protein, such as heavy parasite burden. Should the udder edema and swelling be severe, it can be reduced via administration of diuretics. Any goats exhibiting swelling of the udder should be carefully examined to determine the cause. Mastitis can also appear very similar to udder edema.  

Mastitis, or mammary gland infection, is a serious condition of the udder. It is commonly caused by bacterial infection (staph, strep, or coliform), thought certain viruses (namely CAE, caprine arthritis encephalitis) can cause mastitis as well. Staphylococcus aureus is the most common bacterial pathogen to cause mastitis in goats. Mastitis can generally be divided into three categories, subclinical, clinical, and chronic.  

Subclinical mastitis is difficult to detect as there are no overt signs of infection or illness. It is primarily characterized by decreased milk production and increased cell counts within the milk. In cattle, California Mastitis Tests, or CMT, are used to detect cell counts quickly. While these tests are less accurate in goats with subclinical mastitis, as they have generally higher cell counts within their milk, they can be helpful in determining possible subclinical animals. Milk cultures are also helpful in confirming suspected cases of subclinical mastitis. Early diagnosis of subclinical mastitis can prevent the progression to clinical disease.  

Clinical mastitis is much easier to identify. The udder in an animal suffering from mastitis is abnormal in appearance. Often warm to the touch, painful, and red in appearance. Animals with mastitis may also show signs of systemic illness, such as fever and decreased feed intake. Milk from infected halves is abnormal, often lumpy, watery, or blood-tinged. CMT tests readily indicate infection. Left untreated, acute mastitis can result in gangrene of the gland, septicemia, and even death. While there are a variety of over the counter treatments that may be useful for treating does with mastitis, working carefully with your herd veterinarian is imperative to successful treatment. Especially in milking herds, your veterinarian will ensure that appropriate medication administration and withdrawal times are observed. 

Chronic mastitis is characterized by fibrosis, or scarring, of the mammary gland. The tissue becomes firm to the touch, and agalactia, or lack of mild production, is common due to the extensive scarring. This form of mastitis is commonly associated with caprine arthritis encephalitis infections and ovine progressive pneumonia. Animals suffering from this condition are commonly referred to as suffering from “hard bag.” While caprine arthritis and encephalitis infections often lead to agalactia, the quality of the milk, while still producing, is generally not infected. 

When milking goats, or even just raising kids, healthy udders are imperative for success. Appropriate management can prevent serious disease. While udder edema and precocious udder edema are generally benign conditions, they should be managed carefully to ensure no serious consequences follow. Prevention of mastitis is always preferential to treatment. As there are many factors that can influence development of mastitis, developing a thorough herd care plan is essential. Test your herd for CAE, or any new additions, to prevent introduction into your herd. Carefully manage housing of lactating animals to ensure a clean and dry environment. Regularly check does with nursing kids to ensure healthy glands. Does being milked should have a consistent protocol in place, including cleaning and drying the teats before and after milking. Also, clean equipment thoroughly and set machines for appropriate pulsation and suction. Milking animals exhibiting signs of mastitis should milked after healthy animals, or culled.  

Mastitis can be influenced by many factors. Work closely with your veterinarian to develop a hygiene protocol that is appropriate for your herd to ensure maximum health and production. 

 Sources: 

https://www.merckvetmanual.com/reproductive-system/mastitis-in-large-animals/mastitis-in-goats

https://ufdc.ufl.edu/IR00004755/00001

Pseudolactation in companion goats in the Netherlands. Drs. L.I.A.H.M. Schennink. Department: Farm animal health, Faculty of veterinary medicine, Utrecht University. May 2011  

Large Animal Internal Medicine. Bradford P. Smith. Elsevier Health Sciences. July 2, 2008. 

Sheep and Goat Medicine. David G. Pugh, N. Baird. Elsevier Health Sciences, May 27, 2012. 

MASTITIS OF SHEEP – OVERVIEW OF RECENT LITERATURE. Paula I. Menzies DVM. http://www.ansci.wisc.edu/Extension-New%20copy/sheep/Publications_and_Proceedings/Pdf/Dairy/Health%20and%20Nutrition/Mastitis%20of%20sheep.pdf 

Katie Estill, DVM, is a veterinarian consultant for Goat Journal, Countryside & Small Stock Journal, and Countryside online. She works with goats and other large livestock at Desert Trails Veterinary Services in Winnemucca, Nevada. 

Originally published in the September/October 2019 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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