Bottle Jaw in Goats

Bottle Jaw in Goats

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Goats are funny little creatures with all their running, jumping, bouncing, and nibbling. But playtime comes to a screeching halt when these jokesters become ill, causing goat owners everywhere to whip out their wellness checklist to determine what ails their little weed munchers. So, what does the checklist look like when a previously healthy caprine develops that odd-looking ‘bottle jaw?’ Read on to discover the most common cause of bottle jaw while getting a rundown of the lesser-known culprits behind this disturbing ailment. 

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What is bottle jaw? 

Bottle jaw presents as a collection of fluid, or edema, in the space between the two arms of the lower jawbone ( To simplify, this means the area beneath the goat’s jaw looks swollen to the casual observer. Edema may be minimal or appear more pronounced, much like a nasty wasp sting. If drained, fluid runs clear, indicating no localized infection is present. Swelling may come and go throughout the day, while diarrhea and other symptoms such as stumbling, lethargy, and pale mucous membranes may or may not be present. 

However, the swollen appearance we call bottle jaw is not the ailment but rather a symptom of a serious underlying condition — severe anemia. This anemia reflects low red blood cells and low blood protein levels caused by another agent such as a virus, a parasite, inadequate nutrition, or an infectious disease, making identifying the culprit a must to provide the appropriate treatment. 

Knowing what “normal” looks like for each goat is the first step to recognizing the earliest warning signs of a problem when it rears its ugly head.  Photo by RiAnn Photography 

Parasite load 

As with most things goat-related within the U.S., bottle jaw and the anemia it represents are most commonly the results of a heavy barber pole (Haemonchus contortus) infestation. This nasty parasite scrapes the stomach wall to release the goat’s nutritious blood for feeding resulting in bleeding within the stomach. As barber pole numbers increase, the bleeding increases, resulting in anemia. Left untreated, most goats waste away and succumb to their infestation. 

Because barber poles are the primary cause of bottle jaw, experts recommend first running a fecal and obtaining a FAMACHA score to determine parasite loads. Should the fecal come back negative and the FAMACHA within normal limits for the barber pole, move on to the next potential culprit. However, in the likelihood that barber poles are to blame, be prepared to administer an effective dewormer that you know works in your herd for this devastating parasite, as resistance to anthelmintics runs high across the country in virtually every class of dewormers used within the goat world. Working with a veterinarian knowledgeable in goats, especially if this is the first case of barber poles you’ve dealt with in your herd, cannot be stressed enough when dealing with these heavy infestations for the best chances of success for you and your herd. 

While barber poles are the most common parasite to cause bottle jaw, liver flukes and coccidia are two other somewhat common culprits depending on the region. Diarrhea is often associated with coccidia, while liver flukes tend to present with general lethargy quickly followed by death. Because these other parasites also cause anemia and the resultant bottle jaw, experts recommend running a fecal before and after treatment to ensure utilizing the proper anthelmintic for the correct parasite at the earliest onset of symptoms. 

Less common causes 

Of all the other potential causes for bottle jaw, copper toxicity and copper deficiency are among the most common runners-up. However, copper toxicity is more common among sheep than in goats, as sheep are much more sensitive to copper levels. Diseases such as Johne’s disease and blocked salivary glands from seeds and grasses are other less common causes. Trauma and insect stings are also often mistaken for bottle jaw, making a thorough examination of the affected site necessary before running for the nearest bottle of dewormer. 

Bottle jaw is a common ailment in goat herds, with anemia being the primary cause. To properly treat for bottle jaw, the goat owner must first determine the cause of the anemia as each culprit requires a different approach to treatment. However, sufficient parasite control is often the only “prevention” necessary to prevent bottle jaw from visiting your goat herd in the first place. So be sure to stay on top of your herd’s deworming program, and your herd will likely never experience the dreaded bottle jaw. 

Courtesy of American Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control

Cause of anemia Occurrence Animals most often affected Other signs that may be present 
Barber pole worm (Haemonchosis) Grazing season Lambing/kidding Lambs/kids, does/ewes in early lactation, stressed animals Bottle jaw in some animals. 
Trauma Any season Any animal Injury often visible. 
Coccidiosis Any season Lambs/kids, not a disease of adults Diarrhea. 
Liver fluke Pacific Northwest and Gulf Coast for Fasciola Hepatica Younger animals Poor doing, sudden death, exposure to low-lying areas with snails. 
Johne’s disease Any season Adults Weight loss, poor doing, occasionally diarrhea. 
Chronic disease Any season  Any animal Anemia in these cases is a secondary problem. The primary problem could involve GI, respiratory tract, and other systems. 
Copper deficiency  Any season Any animal Poor growth, weight loss, depression, poor fleece, faded hair color, and other signs, depending on severity. 
Copper toxicity Any season Any animal Usually the sudden onset of weakness, depression, anemia, and red-brown urine. May cause death, but may also have a more chronic course.  

Originally published in the March/April 2023 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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