Goat Bloat: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

How to Treat Bloat in Goats: Know the Signs, Provide a Healthy Diet, and Be Prepared!

Goat Bloat: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Reading Time: 7 minutes

The rumen is an amazingly efficient organ for processing nutrients from vegetable sources, but its complexity makes digestion problems all the more dangerous. This means any digestive issues should be taken very seriously and acted on fast. Goat bloat can very quickly develop and become life threatening.

Belching, belly rumbling, and chewing the cud are signs of a healthy goat digestive system. Goats ferment vegetation inside the rumen through the action of various microbes (bacteria and protozoa). The process releases gas which goats expel through belching. While eating, food rapidly passes down from the mouth through the esophagus to the rumen. When the goat is at rest, cud passes back up to the mouth for more thorough chewing, before passing back down to the rumen for fermentation. If this cycle is interrupted, the goat can be in serious trouble. A buildup of gas that the goat cannot release causes bloat (ruminal tympany).

healthy-rumen-contents
A healthy ruminant stomach showing gas layer above a rumen of fermenting vegetable matter.

As it takes in feed, the rumen expands the left flank of the goat, filling a hollow in front of the hip called the paralumbar fossa. A round belly does not mean that a goat is fat or bloated—it is a healthy sign of good feed intake.

rumen-location
The paralumbar fossa marked on a goat’s left flank. Photo by Nicole Köhler/pixabay.com.

Goat Bloat Symptoms

Bloat extends the rumen high up in the left paralumbar fossa and gives a tight, drum-like feel and sound when tapped. The goat goes off her food and may appear distressed, uncomfortable, or in pain. As the pressure builds, she may bleat, grind her teeth, stamp, salivate, urinate often, and walk awkwardly. If she fails to release the gas, pressure on the lungs makes it hard for her to breathe. You can help relieve the pressure by standing her with the front legs higher than the back.

Without relief, she may be reduced to lying down. Bloat can develop very quickly and cause death within hours.

Signs of Bloat in Goats

  • lack of appetite
  • discomfort
  • abdomen inflation high on the left side
  • pain/tense facial muscles
  • grinding teeth
  • kicking belly
  • bleating
  • stamping
  • frequent urination
  • stilted walk
  • difficulty breathing
  • lying down

Goat may show one or more of these symptoms increasingly as the condition progresses.

Choke and Free Gas Bloat

An obstruction in the throat or esophagus may prevent gas from escaping. This can occur when eating chunks of vegetable, like apple or carrot, or when other obstructions become stuck in the gullet. Abscesses, tumors, and inflammation can also obstruct the esophagus causing bloat. In this case, the pressure may eventually open the esophagus enough for some gas to pass through, resulting in a chronic case of periodic inflation and relief.

Eating of sand or inedible objects, such as plastic bags, cloth, and rope, or too much indigestible fiber, can occur where there is a lack of suitable forage. Impaction of these materials can block gas and result in bloat.

Goats that are lying on their side for a long time, possibly due to other sickness, or goats in an unusual position, such as stuck upside-down, will bloat as they are unable to belch gas in these positions. You will also find that all dead ruminants bloat after several hours, as the gut bacteria continue to release gas, but this does not mean that they necessarily died of bloat.

carrots-can-cause-goat-bloat
Large chunks of carrot can get caught in the gullet, causing choke and bloat. Photo by Karsten Paulick/pixabay.com.

Treating Free Gas Bloat in Goats

If your goat is bloated, distressed, possibly even salivating, she may have a blockage. If you can see or feel a blockage at the back of her throat, you may be able to remove it with care. Similarly, if you see a bulge on the left of the neck, you can try to massage it down gently.

If you already have experience, you can pass a stomach tube down the esophagus. This will quickly relieve free gas bloat, if you can get past the blockage. The blockage may impede the tube, and it is important not to force its passage. If you are unable to relieve the gas this way, contact the veterinarian urgently. They may need to pierce the rumen with a trochar to release the gas. This is a last resort as complications can occur, such as infection and rumen dysfunction, and your goat will need veterinary after-care. Only ever attempt piercing the rumen if the goat cannot breathe and is on the point of death. If she survives, she’ll still need veterinary care.

Frothy Bloat

A more common form of bloat is the frothy kind. In this case overactive microbes produce a foamy slime that coats the gas and seals it in the rumen. This occurs when a goat eats a large amount of a rich food that she is unaccustomed to, for example: pasture rich in legumes (alfalfa, clovers), wet spring grass, grass cuttings, vegetable greens, cereals, and concentrates.

Goats’ natural feed is a wide variety of long-fiber vegetation, and they are naturally keen to consume any high-energy tidbits they would only find occasionally in the wild. When we give goats a quantity of rich food, they gobble it up, but the unusual amount disrupts the rumen balance as microbes rapidly ferment the high-carbohydrate source.

goat-bloat-treatment-pin

Treating Frothy Bloat in Goats

Passing a stomach tube will not free the gas, but it will allow you to introduce a product to break down the foam, enabling gas release. If the tube alone provides relief, the bloat was due to free gas. Otherwise, preferably introduce a specialized goat bloat medicine from your veterinarian, commonly poloxalene. If bloat is due to grain consumption, your veterinarian may provide an alcohol ethoxylate detergent as a more effective agent.

However, you need to act quickly, so if you do not have a veterinary product to hand, vegetable or mineral oil can be effective, although slower acting. Dose 100–200 cc via the tube. Do not use linseed oil as it causes indigestion. You can use oil of turpentine, but it will taint meat and milk for five days. As a last resort, 10 cc dishwashing liquid may help.

If you cannot use a tube, wait for someone who can. Using a drench without a tube risks product being breathed into the lungs and causing pneumonia. If this is your only option, take utmost care to avoid this risk.

Massage the rumen to circulate the dose throughout the rumen and encourage your goat to walk. As the foam breaks down, a stomach tube helps to release the gas.

Indigestion, Acidosis, and Other Complications

When goats rapidly consume large quantities of grain, acidosis occurs. This metabolic disorder has far reaching consequences and can lead to further complications, such as polioencephalomalacia, enterotoxemia, and founder (laminitis). Rapid bacterial fermentation of grain produces frothy bloat, but also changes rumen acidity encouraging other bacteria to multiply. The rumen has no time to adapt and, consequently, lactic acid floods into the entire system. In this case antacids are helpful in the early stages. Suggested amounts are 0.75–3 oz. (20 g to 1 g/kg body weight) baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), 0.35–0.7 oz. (10–20 g) magnesium oxide, or 1.8 oz. (50 g) magnesium hydroxide (milk of magnesia). But as the disorder progresses, urgent veterinary assistance is required to drain or even replace rumen contents. Your goat will need follow-up care to restore B vitamins and prevent infections and inflammation.

eating-grain-in-cowshed
A goat consuming too much grain may suffer life-threatening bloat and acidosis. Photo by Kirill Lyadvinsky/pixabay.com.

Mild cases of acidosis (indigestion) can occur when goats eat a little more grain than they should. They go off feed for a few days and the rumen may be less active. They may have pasty droppings and lactate less. As they stop eating, the rumen generally recovers in a few days. Grass hay and antacids may help.

Should I Supply Free-Choice Baking Soda for Goats?

A little baking soda may be helpful for indigestion, but goats should not have regular access to either soda or antacids. This practice is borrowed from commercial systems where unusually high quantities of grain are fed to improve production. This puts goats in a constant risk of low-level acidosis, which affects health and production. Soda is added regularly to buffer acid production, but balanced by nutritionists with other ingredients so as not to create a mineral imbalance.

Outside such a highly regulated environment, baking soda should be reserved for treating cases and not supplied for self-service. If goats have free-choice soda as well as a salt/mineral mix, they may ingest soda for sodium intake, while neglecting the salt mix that would provide other essential minerals.

Goat Bloat Prevention

Always better than cure is to ensure that your goats have a suitable diet and safe environment to avoid ingesting the wrong things. Goats’ diet should be at least 75% long-fiber forage, such as hay or pasture. Unless they are lactating, backyard goats shouldn’t need concentrates. If grain or concentrates are fed, use very small quantities of whole grains and avoid wheat, soft corn, ground grains, and bread. Similarly, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and other high-carb feeds should be fed in small quantities as treats and cut up small to avoid choke. If you wish to feed larger quantities, introduce the feed over a period of four weeks, gradually increasing the amount, and spread it over three or more portions per day.

varied-long-fiber-forage
Browsing mixed pasture of varied plant species that provide long-fiber forage.

Always have hay available to your goats. The best hay for goats contains a mixture of different grasses and forbs. Feed hay before concentrates and before turning out to fresh grass, alfalfa, or browsing crops. Goats unaccustomed to fresh spring pasture should have limited access to begin with. Pastures should include a wide variety of plants. If legumes are present, they must be interspersed with grass and weeds containing tannin. Goats produce their own bicarbonate in their saliva while chewing long-fiber forages, so their natural feed is the best for maintaining rumen health.

Sources

  • Smith, M. C. and Sherman, D. M. 2009. Goat Medicine, Second Edition. Wiley-Blackwell
  • Harwood, D. 2019. Veterinary Guide to Goat Health and Welfare. Crowood.
  • Goat eXtension
  • Estill, K. 2020. Rumen Disorders in Goats.

Originally published in the Goat Journal 2021 special subscriber issueGoat Health, from Head to Hoof and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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