Goat Prolapses and Placentas

The Ins and Outs of Goat Labor Problems

Goat Prolapses and Placentas

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There are things we expect to come out of a doe at kidding — and things we expect to stay in.  

Sometimes the unexpected occurs. Like a goat prolapse.

In a normal kidding, the first thing to present is mucous, followed by a kid. In rare cases, a prolapse presents first. A goat prolapse is a pink to red mass protruding from the vagina. It can appear weeks before the doe is due to deliver and then disappear. It is often confused with an impending abortion as it doesn’t resemble a normal fetus or delivery.  

Goat prolapses are seen most often in heavily bred or short-bodied does in late gestation. They appear when the muscle tone is weak, and there is pressure or strain from multiple fetuses, a full bladder, coughing, or climbing. When seen before the delivery of kids, it is a prolapse of the vaginal wall. 

Lisa Jaggard of McAllister Creek Farm in Vancouver Island, British Columbia, graciously shared pictures of her doe, Lilly, to help others recognize prolapse. “Of all my does and hundreds of kids born, only Lilly has prolapsed. When I saw it for the first time, it was quite shocking. I researched and asked questions, and it seemed that if I made sure it was kept clean when it came out, she would be fine.”  

Vaginal prolapse is not usually a veterinary emergency and will resolve with birth. It should be promptly addressed, however. The prolapse should be rinsed, and when free of debris, carefully pushed back into the doe. Use caution to avoid tearing — the tissue is very delicate. If there is significant swelling, applying regular household sugar is a common practice — and strangely enough, it works! The sugar draws fluid out of the swollen tissue.   

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Lilly, with a vaginal prolapse during pregnancy. Photo by Lisa Jaggard.

If the prolapse cannot be reinserted, or the doe continues to strain and the reinserted prolapse does not remain in place, intervention is required. Sutures or a device called a prolapse harness can be used. Some goat prolapse harness designs can remain in place for kidding; sutures and other designs require removal prior to kidding. A doe that has experienced prolapse will likely prolapse again during the first kid’s delivery as she pushes. Once the pressure is relieved, it will deliver subsequent kids normally, and the prolapse usually resolves. 

It is not always possible to determine why a doe has prolapsed. Obesity, low calcium levels, poor muscle tone, and lack of exercise have been identified as contributing factors. There may also be a genetic component, so does that repeatedly prolapse should not continue to be bred. As Lisa expected, Lilly was fine but prolapsed in subsequent kiddings, so she is enjoying retirement. 

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Lilly’s vaginal prolapse. Photo by Lisa Jaggard.

A vaginal prolapse and a goat uterine prolapse are entirely different. Uterine prolapse is bright red, and if it occurs, it is after the delivery of kids. It does not resemble a placenta and will not detach. A goat’s prolapsed uterus is a veterinary emergency. The uterus should be kept clean and moist. The veterinarian will examine it for damage and reinsert the uterus in the doe. Stitches will be required as well as antibiotics, possible anti-inflammatories, and follow-up care. Survival is possible, but prognosis should be carefully evaluated, and the doe should not be rebred. 

Between the vagina and the uterus is the cervix. As the doe goes through labor stages, the cervix — a ring of muscles — relaxes and opens, called dilation. When the cervix fully dilates, contractions help the kids pass from the uterus to the birth canal. A condition called “ringwomb” is when the cervix does not dilate. Some cases of false ringwomb occur when the kid is in the wrong position, and the normal pressure needed to open the cervix is absent. If delivery is not accomplished within two to three hours of dilation, the cervix will begin to close. Often, false ringwomb is caused by early intervention, after which dilation does not proceed as it should, or cervical scarring from previous interventions. If a doe is slow to dilate, take extreme care not to intervene until the cervix is relaxed, or injury to the cervix may occur.  In false ringwomb, sometimes the cervix can be opened by gentle manual stretching or hormone injection. Administering oxytocin is not without risk, as it increases the strength of contractions against an undilated cervix, which can cause tearing or rupturing of the uterus. True ringwomb is a life-threatening condition that requires a cesarean section to resolve; the earlier, the better for the best possible outcome. Ringwomb is a genetic condition unrelated to nutrition and presentation. Where the life of the doe cannot be spared, the cervix can be cut in an emergency to allow for birth, after which the doe should be euthanized. 

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Female goat reproductive system. Illustration by Marissa Ames.

Extreme care should be taken when intervening in the birth process. Traction (pulling) or repositioning of kids can injure the cervix and vulva, and cause tears to the vaginal walls and uterus. The doe may heal, but she may have difficulty conceiving, maintaining pregnancies, or future deliveries. While some blood presents in delivery and postpartum, excessive or continuous bright red bleeding indicates a problem, and a veterinarian should be consulted. 

Following birth, the doe will expel the placenta. It typically signals the conclusion of the birth process. In multiple births, there may be multiple placentas, and a placenta can be delivered between kids. The placenta usually appears as small fluid-filled bubbles, mucous, and strings, which give traction to help in expulsion. The doe may also continue to contract as if she is delivering another kid. Once expelled, the normal placenta resembles a jellyfish in consistency, a mass with button-like attachments called cotyledons.  

If the placenta is not fully expelled within 12-18 hours, it is considered retained and may require intervention. Never pull on the placenta; forcible separation can result in hemorrhaging. Placental retention can be due to several different issues: nutrition, infection, or difficult kidding. The resolution depends on the suspected underlying cause. Some does will eat or bury their placenta, or scavengers may remove it, so there is no cause for alarm if the placenta is not found, unless the doe shows symptoms of illness.  

The doe will pass an odorless, reddish-brown to pink discharge called lochia for up to three weeks following birth. Discharge lasting longer than three weeks, white discharge, or foul odor are signs of infection. Infections can be of the uterus (metritis), or the lining of the uterus (endometritis).  

Metritis is a severe systemic illness that requires prompt antibiotic treatment. It can result in fatal toxemia, chronic endometritis, or infertility. Metritis is typically seen after retained placenta, fetal decomposition, or bacteria introduced in an assisted birth. Does with metritis often present with high temperatures, low milk production, lethargy, and little appetite. Endometritis often presents no symptoms other than white discharge and is not limited to the postnatal period. It also requires antibiotics to resolve, and left untreated can cause infertility or absence of heat. Some breeders practice uterine lavage — or flushing of the uterus with antiseptic solutions to address or prevent infection. Still, care should be taken as these can also irritate the uterine lining. Veterinarians often give hormonal therapies to stimulate discharge. 

In a healthy herd, kidding should rarely require any intervention at all. Does are equipped to birth and raise their young. While it is tempting to assist, doing so may cause complications and even injury to the doe and kid. There are times where assisting is needed to preserve life, and recognizing those times is a critical skill. We hope that the ins and outs of your kidding season are exactly as they should be — but if the unexpected happens, like a goat prolapse, you will recognize the issue and be prepared to address it. 

Karen Kopf and her husband Dale own Kopf Canyon Ranch in Troy, Idaho. They enjoy “goating” together and helping others goat. They raise Kikos primarily but are experimenting with crosses for their new favorite goating experience: pack goats! You can learn more about them at Kopf Canyon Ranch on Facebook or kikogoats.org  

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

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