Recognizing and Treating Anemia in Goats
Plus, the main cause of bottle jaw in goats
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Anemia in goats can be deadly very quickly. There are several possible causes of goat anemia, although the treatment regimen will be mostly the same regardless of the cause. The first step in treatment is to recognize that your goat has anemia then identify the cause. The road to full recovery can take time, but without quick diagnosis and action, that recovery may never happen.
Causes of Anemia in Goats
Anemia is essentially a shortage of red blood cells that are needed to carry oxygen and nutrients to the cells of the body. A shortage of red blood cells can be caused by a nutrient deficiency whereby the goat is unable to produce the number of red blood cells that it needs. A deficiency in iron, copper, or cobalt can cause anemia. An overload of copper can also cause anemia by another mechanism. However, it is more likely that your goat is low on blood as a whole, to which they are extremely sensitive. Blood loss can stem from the visible, obvious factors such as wounds, or it can stem from less discernible factors.
Goats are so sensitive to blood loss that even the amount of blood that parasites ingest, whether internal or external, can lead to anemia and even death. External parasites include lice, fleas, ticks, and biting flies. You can search your animal for these and easily treat them if found. Remember, if one of your goats has an external blood-sucking parasite, it is very likely that more if not all of your animals are also infested. Yet, internal parasites are the real killers of goats and other small livestock. They are harder to detect, very prolific, usually take more blood than external parasites, and are often resistant to dewormers. While all goats will have some internal parasites, an overgrowth can quickly lead to death. The most common of the goat worms is the Haemonchus contortus, commonly known as the barber’s pole worm. This barber’s pole worm is so named because the female appears striped as the pink, blood-filled intestines wind around the body, alternating with the white reproductive system. The barber’s pole worms attach to the inner lining of the goat’s fourth stomach, the abomasum, where they feed on the goat’s blood through the stomach wall. If you detect anemia in your goats, first assume that it is due to an overgrowth of these worms. This can be confirmed with a fecal egg count test done by your veterinarian. Another common parasite problem is coccidiosis in goats. The coccidian is a protozoan that can be found in the intestinal lining of our goats and is most common in kids that are between one and four months old. This is characterized by diarrhea that can become bloody if left untreated. The goats may also lack energy and appetite and drop weight quickly. There are other various goat diseases that can lead to anemia in goats such as salmonellosis dysentery, liver flukes, or even anaplasmosis, a tick-borne disease.
Recognizing Anemia in Goats
Like humans, a goat with anemia is going to be lethargic and often have a low appetite. Due to poor circulation, their mucous membranes will appear pale. This is your best indicator of anemia. Gently pull down your goat’s lower eyelid to display the pink underside. The color should be bright pink to red. Lighter pink means anemia, and white means severe anemia that needs immediate attention or your goat will die. It is recommended to check your goats’ mucous membranes weekly, not only to detect anemia, but also to get to know your goats and their normal coloring. There will be a range of healthy colors, just like with humans. If you want more detail than “light pink and white are bad, bright pink is good” then look into the FAMACHA field test. You can complete a training course to receive their card with colors printed on it that you can match to your goat’s underlid. Another indication of anemia in goats is the presence of bottle jaw. Bottle jaw is swelling under and between the jawbones that is soft to the touch. This is caused by edema, or fluid accumulation.
Treating Anemia in Goats
When you detect anemia in your goats, you need to act quickly. If you can quickly identify the cause of the anemia and eliminate it, then do so. If you are waiting for a fecal egg count to be performed by your veterinarian, do not be idle. You can still help your goat to begin regaining health. Barber’s pole worms will need treatment from a chemical dewormer usually with a follow-up treatment roughly 10 days later (follow veterinarian recommendations). Coccidiosis has specific treatment medication available through your feed store or vet. If you cannot identify a parasitic infection or another disease, assume that your goat has a mineral deficiency and supply minerals. Your local extension office should have information on whether your area tends to be deficient in any minerals or has an abundance of ones that can bind others such as molybdenum. As you work to identify and eliminate the cause of your goat’s anemia, you must also give your goat extra fighting power to replenish their red blood cells. This comes in the form of iron supplement such as Red Cell. An injection (or several over the course of two weeks) of vitamin B12 will also greatly help your goat. While a healthy goat can produce all the vitamin B12 it needs naturally, your anemic goat is not healthy and could use the supplement. These injections, available through your local vet by prescription, can be given daily. They are injected straight into the muscle, not the vein. If your goat is severely anemic, they may be too lethargic to eat enough feed to recover. If this is so, you may need to mix a solution of electrolytes, protein, and kid milk replacer and stomach-tube it in. Begin with eight ounces of kid milk replacer (already mixed with water), add in a half-gallon of ruminant electrolytes and some protein powder. A goat needs about one gallon of fluids per one hundred pounds of body weight each day. Divide this into several feedings and administer it until your goat is strong enough to eat on its own again.
The road to recovery takes weeks and possibly even a few months because red blood cells are produced slowly. If you act quickly, you can usually save your goat. The best treatment is prevention and early detection of anemia by knowing your goats and routinely checking them.
Download, print, and share our Goat Notes on goat anemia HERE:
Belanger, J., & Bredesen, S. (2018). Storey’s Guide to Raising Goats. North Adams: Storey Publishing.
Childs, L. (2017). The Joy of Keeping Goats. New York City: Skyhorse Publishing.
Gasparotto, S. (n.d.). Anemia in Goats. Retrieved March 19, 2019, from Onion Creek Ranch: http://www.tennesseemeatgoats.com/articles2/anemiaingoats.html
Originally published in the November/December 2019 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.