Malta and the (Seemingly) Never Ending Diarrhea
Unconventional Treatments that Actually Worked
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Malta should have been healthy in every way and seemed so except for her diarrhea. She was only a year or two old and vibrant. However, her constant diarrhea was very much a problem. She had to be bathed often, and bedding changed daily. While she did slowly lose some weight as diarrhea continued for months, she never appeared as though she were wasting or truly sick. Through various treatments and tests, Malta suffered for nine months before an unconventional treatment finally cured her completely.
Malta’s owner, Jon, loves his herd. When other owners may throw up their hands and cull a sick animal that doesn’t respond to treatment, Jon continues in his search to help his animals. There were many instances where culling Malta may have seemed to be the best solution in the minds of others, but Jon never gave up. He worked closely with the vet in attempting to identify the problem and treat it. Because he persevered, Malta is still here and is now a healthy member of her herd.
When Malta first presented with constant diarrhea, Jon suspected coccidiosis, a microscopic protozoan parasite that lives in the intestinal tract of goats and other species. While many adults can carry this parasite without any problems, young kids ages one to five months are quite susceptible. Malta was past the age of highest susceptibility, but coccidiosis can still occur and infect an older animal if they are stressed or otherwise immune-compromised. However, after treating for coccidian, Malta still had diarrhea.
Jon also tested Malta for mineral deficiency, but that was not the cause of her chronic diarrhea. All blood and fecal workups were clear. At one point, Jon feared that Johne’s disease may be the culprit because it causes severe diarrhea in its end stages. This was particularly scary because of the highly contagious nature of Johne’s disease and its 100% fatality rate. This could mean losing his entire herd. Fortunately, all tests for Johnes disease came back negative. This started the broader spectrum treatments of dewormers and even probiotic supplements, but again to no avail.
At one point, Jon came across an unconventional treatment, at least in the world of goats. This was a type of clay meant to treat colic in horses. It was administered either by a tube full of paste given like a dewormer, or a powder you can mix with water then drench down the throat of your animal. This clay binds to toxins in the digestive system to help the body eliminate them. When Jon began giving the paste to Malta, he noticed her fecal matter slowly went from an almost water consistency to slowly become more substantial. However, even though her diarrhea was much improved in consistency, it was not cured.
One day, Jon’s veterinarian called with an idea for a different kind of treatment for poor Malta. This treatment, called transfaunation (DePeters & George, 2015), is actually a common treatment for indigestion in cattle. It involves extracting liquid from a healthy cow’s rumen and tubing it down the throat of the sick animal directly into their rumen. As cattle and goats are both ruminant animals, it was worth a try. They tubed cow rumen fluid into Malta’s stomach, and from that day on, Malta was cured of her diarrhea. After nine long months of cleaning her, changing bedding daily, and trying medications and treatments, Malta was finally better. While we may never know exactly why this transfaunation worked, we can suspect that perhaps she was missing some of the beneficial microbiota in her digestive system, and the healthy rumen fluid was able to repopulate her body with those microbes. However, a probiotic supplement that was attempted previously did not work, so perhaps there is more to the health of a rumen than just the bacteria. As the rumen is essentially a fermenting vat for the food a ruminant eats, having a healthy rumen is vital to digestion and therefor the health of the animal.
While we may never know exactly what caused Malta’s nine-month-long battle with diarrhea, at least she is finally cured and able to live a healthy life.
DePeters, E., & George, L. (2015, Feb 24). Treating dairy cow indigestion with rumen transfaunation. Retrieved May 6, 2019, from Progressive Dairyman: https://www.progressivedairy.com/topics/herd-health/treating-dairy-cow-indigestion-with-rumen-transfaunation
Originally published in the March/April 2020 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.