Saving a Weak Baby Goat
What to Do for Floppy Kid Syndrome and Beyond
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Spring kidding season brings a mix of excitement and trepidation on most goat farms. Even though I’ve helped deliver well over 100 kids, it’s still a little nerve-wracking each year, anticipating all the things that could go wrong and wondering if I’ll be prepared to save a weak baby goat!
The good news is that if you’re well prepared and your doe is in good health, things usually go pretty well, and you might not have to do much more than help dry off the babies and give mom some treats and love. But knowing the problems to look for and what to do if they arise can make the difference between life and death for a weak goat kid.
Beyond any major genetic or physical abnormalities, the three main life-threatening issues to be prepared for in a newborn kid include:
- Kid can’t feed itself.
- Dam can’t feed her kids.
- Kid is hypothermic.
How soon should a baby goat nurse after being born? All three of these issues are related to one central and critical fact: newborn kids MUST have colostrum within the first hours of life to survive. There are different reasons why a kid may not get this much-needed elixir of life, but without it, chances of survival are greatly reduced so your prompt attention and intervention may be needed.
Here’s a look at some of the causes of these three common problems, along with several possible interventions you can try before calling the vet (or until the vet arrives):
PROBLEM: Kid is too weak to get up or has a weak sucking response
Occasionally a kid just had a rough delivery, has a slight deformity like contracted tendons that keep it from standing right away, or is slightly underdeveloped and lacking a strong sucking response. While this newborn goat kid can’t stand and may appear “floppy,” it does not have floppy kid syndrome, which doesn’t present until three to 10 days after birth and will be discussed later in this article.
- You may need to help the kid get to its feet by propping it up and holding it to its mother’s teat for the first few sucks.
- You may need to express some of the mother’s colostrum into a bottle with a Pritchard nipple and feed a few ounces to the baby.
- You can try dripping or rubbing some colostrum, vitamin solution, corn syrup, or even coffee on its tongue and gums to help give it a little energy boost.
- A weak baby goat may benefit from a thiamine injection.
- If all else fails, or the baby goat won’t eat, you or your veterinarian may need to administer the initial colostrum through a stomach tube.
PROBLEM: Dam unable to feed the kid
There are times when a dam delivers her kids before her colostrum has come in, and she doesn’t have an initial source of food for her own babies. On occasion, a dam may reject her kid for one reason or another. Or she may have had multiple kids and doesn’t have enough colostrum (and eventually milk) to feed them all. Or there may be too much competition among multiples, and the smallest, weakest kid loses out. There are also times when a dam has had such a difficult delivery that she is too sick and weak, or even worse, has died and cannot feed her baby. Whatever the reason, it’s going to be up to you to find a source of colostrum quickly for this kid to ensure its survival.
- If you have multiple does kidding simultaneously, you may be able to express some colostrum from another dam that has just delivered and feed it to this kid.
- If you had another doe that gave birth earlier in the season or even last season, you could express some of her colostrum and save it to use in a situation like this. You can freeze it in small, 1-4oz. portions and then, when needed, gently thaw it to just above your own body temperature and feed it to the newborn in a bottle.
- You can mix up some powdered colostrum replacer with warm water and feed it to the newborn. Be sure to use “kid colostrum replacer” (not calf colostrum and not regular milk replacer).
If a baby is born on a very cold or wet day or night, or if the kid is under-developed and having a hard time regulating its body temperature, hypothermia can set in quickly. An otherwise healthy kid whose body temperature drops too low will be unable to eat or even absorb nutrients until its body returns to a normal goat temperature range. Before trying to feed a cold and lethargic goat kid, you will need to warm it up sufficiently.
- The first thing to try is to dry the kid off and hold it close to your body. This will at least minimize heat loss and, for a slightly chilled kid, may raise the body temperature enough to get it to start eating.
- If a weak baby goat is very cold, a quick way to bring up body temperature is by submerging it in a hot water bath. If the kid is still wet, you can plunge it in a bucket of very warm water, holding its head above the water, of course, and then dry it off once warmed. If the baby is already dried off but still very cold, you may want to place the body, up to the neck, in a large plastic bag and then submerge it into the bucket of very warm water, so the baby stays dry. This acts as a hot tub and can restore a baby goat temperature quite quickly.
- Another method to bring body temperature up is to place the baby in a box and use a hairdryer to warm the box quickly. A semi-airtight container such as a plastic tub with a hole cut into one side to stick the hairdryer through works well. You don’t want the hot air blowing directly on the goat, so make sure the hole is near the top of the tub.
- Heat lamps and heating pads will also help warm a baby, but these both take longer to raise body temperature and are more of a help in keeping a baby warm once you’ve raised a frigid body temperature back up to normal. They are both potentially dangerous fire hazards, and there is a risk of overheating or even burning baby or other goats in the area, so use with extreme caution.
- Once the baby’s body temperature returns to normal, you can try feeding through one of the methods suggested above.
Floppy Kid Syndrome (FKS):
While a weak baby goat may seem floppy at birth, a newborn is most likely not suffering from FKS. The main symptom of FKS in an otherwise normal and healthy kid is the sudden onset of extremely weak baby goat legs and a loss of all muscle tone around three to 10 days after it is born. The kid will stop suckling a bottle or nursing well, although it will still be able to swallow. There will be no other symptoms of baby goat diseases, such as diarrhea, dehydration, or labored breathing, which, if present, could indicate something other than FKS.
The causes of FKS are not known, but the effect is that the bloodstream becomes too acidic. While some kids will recover with no treatment at all, early detection and treatment will increase survival chances. For floppy kid syndrome in goats, treatment is very simple and inexpensive — baking soda! Mix ½ to one tsp of baking soda with one cup of water and feed it orally if the baby can still suck. If not, it may need to be administered using a stomach tube. You should see improvement within a couple of hours when caught early and when FKS is the correct diagnosis. In more severe cases, the kid may need intravenous fluids and bicarbonate administration.
While most kids will arrive perfectly healthy and will need little assistance from you, knowing what to watch for and how to intervene quickly may enable you to save a weak baby goat. While these suggestions are a good starting point, they are not substitutions for expert medical advice or intervention, so don’t hesitate to call your veterinarian for further consultation and recommendations.
- Smith, Cheryl K. Goat Health Care. Karmadillo Press, 2009
Originally published in the March/April 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.