Identifying and Treating Goat Pink Eye

What Antibiotics Treat Pink Eye when It Presents in Your Herd?

Identifying and Treating Goat Pink Eye

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Goat pink eye, formerly called infectious keratoconjunctivitis, refers to inflammation of both the cornea and conjunctiva. It can be the scourge of an otherwise healthy herd during summer months when flies cluster around eye tissue but is a highly contagious and communicable eye infection in goats at any time of the year. Caused by several different bacteria, goat pink eye usually leaves no long-term damage.  

All may seem well with your goats: You survived kidding season and babies now bounce happily around your paddock. It’s joyous to watch, but one day you see one of your does squinting. Or you lead another to the milk stand and notice that the area around her eye socket has swollen as if she had been butted right in the face. Perhaps you catch a buckling that you haven’t held in a while, only to see that one eye has completely clouded over.  

A one-week-old kid with pink eye. Photo courtesy of Amie McCormick, Oregon.

You have a breakout of goat pink eye in your herd. Is pink eye contagious? Extremely, and it’s probably going to spread fast. 

Completely unrelated to pink eye in cattle, goat pink eye can spread from several different bacteria, most commonly Chlamydia psittaci ovis or Mycoplasma conjunctivae. These are the same bacteria that most commonly cause pink eye in sheep. It can also be a secondary infection after debris irritates or injures the eyes.  

Is pink eye contagious? Extremely, and it’s probably going to spread fast.

Where does pink eye come from? Though flies and other insects may serve as vectors, goat pink eye comes from other goats. It often shows up after shows, where goats may contract the disease then become more susceptible due to stress from transport. Or it may break out within a herd during kidding season. Crowded barn conditions exacerbate problems. Goats rub against each other at feed troughs and contact the same bedding, so separate affected animals to avoid further transmission. 

Early goat pink eye signs include squinting due to increased light sensitivity, frequent blinking, swelling of tissue around the eyes, watery discharge from the eyes, and reddening of the sclera (white of the eye.) Later symptoms include cloudiness within the cornea which looks like a white or bluish milky film over the iris and pupil. Blood vessels may grow across it and the entire cornea may appear red. In severe cases, the pupil may develop a pit-like ulcer, which will cause blindness if it ruptures. This can then spread infection, and the blood may turn septic, which is quickly lethal.  

Maggie, owned by Sandrine of New South Wales, Australia. She was fine after Sandrine sprayed her with pink eye treatment several times.

There is no vaccine available, for any strains of the causative bacteria. A goat that contracts pink eye may get it again from the same bacterial strain, as any acquired immunity is not long-lasting. Goat pink eye duration is usually one to four weeks, and it often resolves on its own. But avoid the “wait and see” approach, having products ready when you first see early pink eye symptoms. 

Pass up that Neosporin for pink eye in goats. Neosporin contains bacitracin, neomycin, and polymixin b, but North Carolina State University recommends oxytetracycline ointment or injections of either tetracycline or tylosin. Most injectable antibiotics are used off-label, so if you use Tylan 200 for goats, consult a veterinarian for the most specific dosage information. NCSU also states that LA-200 and similar medications (oxytetracycline injectable solution) don’t work nearly as well as the ointment placed directly within the eye. Recently available ophthalmic products such as gels and sprays contain hypochlorous acid and greatly decrease irritation. 

Using clean fingers, apply ointment starting at the corner, ensuring it contacts the goat eyeball itself instead of the outer lid. Do this several times daily, and be sure to wash your hands before touching any other goats. Supplying ample shade, or eye patches, can relieve discomfort during healing time.  

There is no vaccine available. A goat that contracts pink eye may get it again from the same bacterial strain, as any acquired immunity is not long-lasting.

If a goat has lost her eyesight due to advanced infection, lead her to a small shelter where she can easily find food and water. And, if you feel your goat needs a subconjunctival injection (thin membrane around the eyeball), do not attempt to do this yourself. Consult a veterinarian. 

Flies crawl into those tears from weepy, infected eyes then land on healthy eyes, so use gloves as you gently wash tears off your goat’s face. Hoods, such as the types used for horses, can also prevent transmission to other goats. 

How can you avoid pink eye in goats? First, be vigilant of the symptoms. Be aware that introducing new goats from auctions or sale yards may also introduce an unwanted outbreak. Avoid overcrowding or undue stress within your herd. Treat fly-prone areas, such as manure buildup or wet bedding, to discourage insects from bringing the disease from other herds. Keep a fully stocked goat medicine cabinet, including ophthalmic sprays and ointments, as many of these can be difficult to find or too expensive when you need them most.  

Though that milky bluish-white eyeball may be alarming, goat pink eye can be handled with the right antibiotics and some timely care.  

Originally published in the Goat Journal 2020 special subscriber issueGoat Health, From Head to Hoof and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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