Goat Udder Problems: Injuries and Infection
Hard udder in goats can be a sign of mastitis.
A doe’s udder is among her most valuable and vulnerable components. Even if not used for dairying purposes, a healthy udder is necessary to feed kids with nutrient-dense milk and colostrum. A delicate and complex organ, the udder can easily sustain lasting damage that can either destroy or greatly impair milk output. Proper responses to goat udder problems such as injuries and infections are tools every doe owner should have.
Correct conformation and strong mammary attachments can significantly reduce the odds of injury. You can also avoid infection through careful observation, gentle milking, and good hygiene practices. However, even in the most carefully controlled environments, accidents and issues can arise.
Mastitis is one of the most common goat udder problems. A broad term, this refers to any internal infection of the udder. Depending on the pathogen (which can be a bacterium, virus, or even a fungus) and extent of progression, mastitis in goats can range from very mild to severe and even life-threatening.
Does commonly become infected through the teat canal — before, after, or during the milking or nursing. First fresheners may even develop the condition from herdmates playfully sucking their teats before kidding.
Good hygiene practices, including clipping hair, sanitizing, and teat dipping, are primary defenses against infection. Unfortunately, even the best care isn’t a guarantee you won’t ever encounter this issue. Some does seem to be more susceptible than others.
Mastitis symptoms might include any one or several of the following: bloody milk, clotting, hot and hard udder in goats, painful teats, and fever. Because any one of these symptoms could indicate other health issues, it is wise to keep a California Mastitis Test (CMT) on hand. This inexpensive test is done by squirting some milk into a chemical solution and watching the reaction. This is a great tool for questionable cases, gauging severity, and detecting subclinical cases.
If the case is very mild with minimal symptoms, you may be able to milk the doe through it without treatment. (Note: owners should always dump this milk.) Multiple symptoms, severe, and/or ongoing cases typically require antibiotic treatment. Mastitis antibiotics range from intramammary infusions, administered through the teat canal, to standard intramuscular or subcutaneous injections. Because most of these aren’t explicitly labeled for goats, you will need to consult your veterinarian beforehand.
Internal and External Trauma
Udders are prime targets for all sorts of accidental bumps and bruises. Does with weak attachments by genetics or age tend to be the first to have issues.
Internal damage, such as ruptured blood vessels, is usually detected by bloody milk. Minor problems usually go away on their own, but if the bleeding gets worse — going from pink-tinted milk to deeper red or showing signs of pus — you may need a vet diagnosis via ultrasound.
Severe external udder trauma can look very ugly and requires urgent attention. Common injuries are lacerations, bumps, and punctures.
Minor superficial cuts and scrapes can be treated with a topical antiseptic but should be routinely monitored. Remember, whenever the doe lies down, she is re-exposed to infection.
Serious cuts that bleed profusely or leak milk will need stitches and veterinary attention. If treated promptly, the doe can recover from these types of injuries with little to no long-lasting impacts.
Hematomas, or external soft tissue swelling, are caused by broken blood vessels, punctures, or other tissue damage. Unlike abscesses (which infected hematomas could potentially become), these should not be lanced but left to heal on their own.
Abscesses are pus-filled pockets resulting from significant trauma. Similar to hematomas, they can often be found under the skin of the udder and surrounding areas. A small needle poke can confirm the diagnosis between the two by revealing pus or clear fluid.
Abscess lancing requires completely sterile instruments and a steady hand. Only an experienced individual or veterinarian should do it. After drainage, follow routine disinfection.
Goat teats tend to take the brunt of udder wear and tear. They are pulled and tugged by hungry kids and routinely opened daily for milking. Two issues are most common.
One is obstruction, usually noticed in the milking process. Some does with high components like protein and butterfat can have large granular chunks that get caught in the internal teat cistern and intricate folds. Minor pieces may gently come out with milking.
Never force severe complete blockages — this is especially true with first fresheners who could have rare cases of anatomical blockages. In rare cases, a veterinarian may need to remove them with special instruments.
The second issue is technically two-fold — teat stenosis (a narrow orifice or teat canal) and weak teat sphincters, which cause “leaky teats.”
Stenosis is where the orifice or teat canal is tiny and makes milking difficult and agonizingly slow. This can be the result of a healed injury or past mastitis case. Treatment for stenosis depends on severity.
In some cases, it can be fixed by a teat dilator or a plug inserted into the canal for periods that gently enlarges the opening. Others may need surgical correction.
Leaky teats can happen when a doe has gone a long time between milkings. But some animals tend to have this problem even at normal intervals.
Anatomically abnormal canals or past trauma contribute to a condition where the teat cannot naturally plug between milkings and drips almost continuously. This is a serious issue because it leaves the teat canal continually open to infection.
A bit of adhesive teat tape can temporarily fix this condition if a doe is healing from an injury, but does who have an ongoing struggle cannot be truly fixed. In these cases, it may be necessary for the animal to leave the milking herd.
Udder and Teat Wounds. (n.d.). Retrieved January 06, 2021, from http://www.developmentvet.aun.edu.eg/animal%20surgery/s_20.htm
Traumatic and Structural Disorders of the Udder By Pamela L. Ruegg, By, Ruegg, P., & Last full review/revision Apr 2015 | Content last modified Apr 2015. (n.d.). Traumatic and Structural Disorders of the Udder – Reproductive System. Retrieved January 06, 2021, from https://www.merckvetmanual.com/reproductive-system/udder-diseases/traumatic-and-structural-disorders-of-the-udder
Michael Metzger, M. (2019, January 3). Mastitis in sheep and goats. Retrieved January 06, 2021, from https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/mastitis-in-sheep-and-goats
Originally published in the 2021 special issue of Goat Journal — Goat Health from Head to Hoof Vol. 2 — and regularly vetted for accuracy.