Umbilical Cord Care: Avoiding Joint Ill in Goats
Navel ill in goats begins at birth.
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Joint ill in goats, a life-threatening bacterial infection that affects newborn kids, usually begins with poor hygiene during kidding.
The umbilical cord in goats needs similar care in comparison to other livestock animals. While in the wild and even domesticated goats give birth without assistance on a regular basis, proper umbilical cord care can improve the likelihood of a kid thriving. Because the umbilical cord acts as a passageway for nutrients from the placenta to the kid in utero, it is still slightly open for a time even after that kid is born. Proper care can help quickly close the opening before bacteria can enter.
When a goat gives birth, the umbilical cord will often break as the kid is born. Goats, like other livestock animals, have a relatively short umbilical cord that is not meant to still be attached after parturition. As a goat is born, if it is positioned properly, the fluid will drain from its lungs as it exits the birth canal at a downward angle. As this is typically synonymous to the cord breaking, there is no disruption of oxygen as long as the goat begins breathing soon after birth. In cases where the cord does not break, most of the time the doe will then chew the cord to break it. Rarely will you have to intervene to cut the cord yourself. It is better to allow the cord to break naturally or be bitten by the mother because it tends to bleed less than if it is cut (PennState Extention).
If you do need to cut the cord, tie the cord off with floss and use sharp, clean surgical scissors or a blade to cut the cord about three to four inches from the kid’s navel. Smaller breeds of goats will naturally need slightly shorter cords to keep them clean. If the cord has already broken but is long enough to drag on the ground, you will need to cut it shorter. Even though it can naturally break close to the kid’s body and be fine, it is ideal to give at least two inches of cord. This gives more of a barrier to bacteria entering the body through the cord opening. The cord will dry up and fall off after about eight to 10 days but can take up to three weeks.
The goat’s umbilical cord should be dipped with a 7% iodine solution. If you can only find 10% solution, dilute it in a 7:3 ratio with purified water. Dip all the way to the belly, repeating any time the kid is handled in the first 24-48 hours post-birth (Bowen, 2014). Other alternatives include diluted betadine (povidone-iodine) or chlorhexidine solutions (Passler, Bayne, & Brady, 2018). Either method is useful to help prevent bacteria from entering the umbilical cord and gaining access to the young kid’s body.
Navel Ill (Joint Ill) in Goats
Navel ill, more commonly known as joint ill in goats, occurs from bacteria entering the body usually via the umbilical cord. In joint ill not associated with the cord, it can enter via breaks in the skin or via the respiratory or gastrointestinal tract. There are multiple types of bacteria that can cause this, but it happens most often in kidding pens that lack proper sanitation, overcrowding, and when the umbilical cord is not dipped. Several joints will swell and become hot and painful. Affected legs may not be able to bear weight, and a kid with multiple affected limbs will be unable or unwilling to stand. While a kid will present with fever, their appetite remains normal. The umbilical area may be inflamed but is often not. The joints most affected are the knee, shoulder, hock (rear knee), or stifle (top front of rear leg).
Treatment includes antibiotics, massage of affected swollen joints in goats, and rest on soft bedding with frequent turning of the kid if they are unable to stand. They may need to be in a sling periodically during recovery. It is best to prevent navel ill with proper hygiene. Use clean bedding, dip the umbilical cord, and clean your shoes any time you enter the birthing stall.
Shortfalls of Nature’s Design
The one shortcoming of the beautiful design of the goat’s umbilical cord happens when a kid may be malpresented for birth. If they are breach, the short cord is more likely to either be crushed by the kid’s body in the birth canal or possibly break while their head is still inside the mother. In a breach birth, if you cannot turn the kid before they enter the birth canal, you must help them to be delivered quickly to prevent umbilical cord trauma. This is also a risk if two kids are presenting at the same time.
If the umbilical ring fails to close after birth, an umbilical hernia may form where the intestines will protrude through the abdominal wall. In this case the skin is intact, but the abdominal muscle wall is not fully closed. Some cases of umbilical hernia are hereditary, but not all (Sousa, et al., 2013). If the intestines protruding through the hernia become twisted or obstructed, your goat will die without intervention. Surgical intervention has some promise of success, but you will have to weigh the pros and cons of possibly breeding a goat with a hernia, repaired or not.
The umbilical cord is a marvelous structure. It provides nutrients for the growing fetus and then closes off at birth. Proper care helps the area to heal without infection. If you do little else for your does at kidding time, do consider at least dipping the umbilical cord of the new babies to help prevent navel ill.
Bowen, J. S. (2014, January). Joint-Ill in Goats. Retrieved from Merck Veterinary Manual: https://www.merckvetmanual.com/musculoskeletal-system/lameness-in-goats/joint-ill-in-goats
Passler, T., Bayne, J., & Brady, B. (2018, December 6). Care During & Post Kidding In Dairy Goats. Retrieved from Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities Extention: https://www.aces.edu/blog/topics/sheep-goats/care-during-post-kidding-in-dairy-goats/
PennState Extention. (n.d.). Meat Goat Production and Management: The Birth Process. Retrieved from PennState Extention : https://extension.psu.edu/programs/courses/meat-goat/reproduction/the-process-of-kidding/the-birth-process
Sousa, G., Pessoa, G., Pires, L. V., Ribeiro, F., Ferreira, M., Lopes, M., . . . Feitosa Junior, F. (2013). Umbilical hernia in goats: case report. PUBVET.
Originally published in the 2021 special issue of Goat Journal — Goat Health from Head to Hoof Vol. 2 — and regularly vetted for accuracy.