To Medicate or Not to Medicate
The Most Commonly Used Medications May Not be Necessary at All.
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If you go into any farm supply store, you will find a large number of medications, injections, and supplements for livestock of all varieties. The same will go for the cupboards of livestock producers of any substantial duration. In an animal crisis, these medications are always brought forth and sorted through. Previously veterinary-prescribed medications have lost their labels, and instructions from feed store associates are often vague and based on he-said-she-said successes. Whether or not these medications are actually indicated for the crisis at hand is often questionable.
There are a handful of commonly used medications brought out for medical crises with goats. These medications are touted because of their easy availability, their previous perceived success in resolving a crisis, or their previous recommendation for a similar medical condition. However, when your neighbor recommends that you give a product to your kid for diarrhea or your doe for a cough, is it really a good idea? Having a basic knowledge of common medications and their intended usage and safety can be helpful. Most important, however, is having a relationship with your herd veterinarian and establishing treatment protocols for common ailments.
Antibiotics are some of the most commonly used medications. In most states, many antibiotics are still over-the-counter. This means they are readily available when they are needed. However, this also places increased responsibility on the producer to know their appropriate dosage and usage. In a world with increasing issues with antibiotic resistance, careful and judicious use of antibiotics is imperative to prevent further resistance. If you are new to raising goats, the best source for this information is your herd veterinarian. Knowing the appropriate dosage and frequency of administration of the medication is imperative. For instance, frequently producers give penicillin procaine every 24 hours; however, for this medication to be effective, it is to be given every 12 hours. Livestock owners also must observe withholding laws regarding consumption of meat and milk after antibiotic administration. This is true, even if your goats are pets rather than used for production of meat or milk. In addition to making sure that the antibiotic is being given appropriately and legally, it is important to know if the antibiotic will treat the condition your goat has. Do you use oxytetracycline for pneumonia, or is penicillin better? If having the veterinarian out to treat every animal is not for you, establishing treatment protocols for common illnesses is an excellent way to ensure not only that you are treating animals appropriately, but also ensure that your veterinarian can provide you with the appropriate antibiotic in a timely fashion.
Vitamin and mineral injections are also commonly available medications. Among these, Bo-Se and B vitamins are frequently used. Bo-Se is a vitamin E and selenium injection. Selenium is a mineral with a narrow margin of safety. In deficient animals, it can be used to prevent or treat musculoskeletal issues. However, in non-deficient animals, over-use or over-dose can result in toxicity and even death. Knowing the selenium content of your feed will help you determine your need for injectable selenium supplementation. This mineral can also be supplemented orally in mineral supplements and blocks, further reducing the need for injectable supplementation. Bo-Se can be used specifically to treat the condition white muscle disease in kids. White muscle is due to a selenium deficiency which results in weak kids. However, due to the narrow margin of safety, it is not recommended to treat all weak kids with Bo-Se.
B complex vitamin injections are also commonly used. In adult animals, B vitamins are manufactured by the micro-organisms living within the rumen. In young animals, their source for B vitamins is their dams’ milk. Administration of the medication during times of rumen upset, such as diet change or stress, can ensure there is no reduction in production. Ingestion or lack of ingestion of certain minerals, such as sulfur or cobalt, can affect absorption of B vitamins as well. A lack of vitamin B1, or thiamine, results in a serious medical condition known as polioencephalomalacia. Use of intravenous and intramuscular thiamine injection is necessary to treat the condition. Deficiency of other B vitamins can result in a variety of other conditions. B vitamins have a wide margin of safety, making use in stressed or weak animals fairly safe, as long as they are administered at the appropriate dosage.
Deworming medications are easily available over the counter. There are a variety of medications available for use against internal and external parasites. The majority of the medications for internal parasites are manufactured for use in cattle and do not have FDA approval for use in goats. Because of this, their dosing labels and charts are for use in cattle rather than goats. Internal parasites in livestock are developing increased resistance to most common dewormers. Due to this resistance, blanket deworming of animals is not recommended. If you suspect that your goat or herd is experiencing health issues associated with internal parasites, your first steps should be further investigation, rather than reaching for the medicine cabinet. Fecal egg counts and FAMACHA scoring are used to better assess animals suspected to be suffering from heavy parasitism. After use of these tools to determine if and who might need treatment for internal parasites, then a dewormer may be chosen. Due to the lack of FDA approval, these medications should be prescribed by your veterinarian, to ensure appropriate dosage, as well as meat and milk withdrawal times for these medications. This information will not be found on the label for a medication not approved for use in goats. Use of dewormers at inappropriate dosages can result in increased resistance of parasites to the medication. It is not recommended that you use these medications without consulting your veterinarian. Pour-on medications for internal parasites, such as those used in cattle, should never be used in goats. There are some FDA-approved topical medications for use against external parasites in goats. If you suspect external parasites in your goat, such as lice or mites, following label directions of these medications can provide appropriate treatment for your animal. Due to varying life cycles of external parasites, if you are unsure, it is always recommended to consult your veterinarian prior to treatment.
There are many medications that can be easily obtained by animal owners. It is the responsibility of owners to make sure that they use these medications appropriately. While inappropriate usage may not always have obvious adverse effects, it cannot provide the benefit that was their goal. If you are experiencing medical concerns with your goat, the best source for information regarding treatment is your veterinarian. While other goat owners may be well-meaning with their advice and offers of assistance, it may not always be an appropriate treatment. Establishing a herd wellness plan with your veterinarian can help identify possible problems, ensure you have appropriate vitamin and mineral plans, as well develop deworming and disease treatment protocols. In a world where livestock veterinarians are spread increasingly thin, it is much better to have your relationship established and plans in place prior to an emergency occurring rather than during a critical emergency. You cannot know what you don’t know. Utilize your herd veterinarian to ensure that you have the appropriate medications in your cabinet, and that you are administering them appropriately.
Originally published in the July/August 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.