Urinary Calculi in Goats – EMERGENCY!

Ammonium chloride for goats and the importance of avoiding grain.

Urinary Calculi in Goats – EMERGENCY!

Urinary calculi in goats and sheep is a common and mostly preventable livestock health issue. While it is slightly different in each species, it has many similar causes, symptoms, and prevention. Goats will be discussed here but know that much of the information pertains to both species. Other names for this condition are urolithiasis and water belly.

The recognized cause of urinary calculi in goats is feeding an improperly balanced diet. When grain is heavily fed, forage is limited and minerals are out of balance, the perfect scenario is set up for stones and blockage to form in the urethra. The stones can be big enough to completely block the urethra or still allow a trickle of urine to pass through. This is what we experienced when a case of urinary calculi presented in our wethered sheep.

Our Farm Story

We acquired Ranger from a nearby farm that had mistakenly over bred and ended up with too many lambs for the property. They very generously gave us three lambs. Urinary calculi problems began one day when the wether was six years old. Fully grown, large, and not particularly friendly, it was hard to get him into the barn for an exam. We could tell something was very wrong. He was in pain and had urine dripping. Instead of trying to ram me, he was standing oddly with an elongated stance. He appeared to be straining.

What Could be Done?

At the time, I was not educated about urinary calculi. We had fed a small amount of grain every day to the animals, mostly in hopes that they would come to us when exams or medical treatment was necessary. Unfortunately, in Ranger’s case, even a little grain each day was too much. He had almost a complete blockage. He did not survive, although the vet was called, and a relaxant and pain reliever were administered. We knew the prognosis was grim and Ranger passed the next morning. If I had that call to make again, I would opt for euthanasia to end the animal’s suffering. A urinary calculi diagnosis is that serious. This condition is considered an emergency.

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“Our four-month-old Boer, Bandit. He didn’t make it; he went into shock while attempting to snip his pizzle. It was definitely a hard lesson learned for us.” Submitted by Cindy Waite of Illinois

Signs and Symptoms of Urinary Calculi in Goats

  • Straining and making sounds of distress
  • Standing in an elongated stance
  • Drips of urine that may be bloody
  • Teeth grinding (a common sign of pain in animals)
  • Swollen penis
  • Dark urine
  • Restlessness and tail twitching (other signs of discomfort)
  • Abdominal pressure and distension

Urinary tract blockage from stones is an emergency. If you notice any of these symptoms, I advise calling a veterinarian right away. The progression can be quick, and it is very painful. Untreated, the bladder may rupture, spilling urine into the abdominal cavity.

The Relationship of Goat Grain and Urinary Calculi

If we look at why food has a relationship to urinary calculi, we see the importance of a balanced ration when feeding grain. Simply tossing together different grains you might have on hand, can lead to nutritional deficiencies and death. Rich grain diets fed to goats must have a good calcium to phosphorus ratio. The ratio should be 2:1. The ratios of each nutrient should be clearly printed on the feed bag tag.

A feed high in cereal grains such as corn, wheat, and barley is high in phosphorus. Using these feeds can easily set the calcium-phosphorus ratio out of balance. In addition, feeding less expensive mixtures intended for other animals can be the wrong mixture for goats. Do not feed horse feed or general livestock feed to your goats unless you are sure the formula is balanced for goats.

The Best Food for Male Goats

Browse and hay should be the primary diet for bucks and wethers. Adding a small amount of well-balanced grain will be acceptable but should be carefully monitored. Fresh water should always be available, as prevention of urinary calculi requires that the goat be well hydrated.

The Castration Component

Castrating goats at an early age has been debated as a cause of urinary stone buildup. Hormones produced as the male goat reaches puberty contribute to the full growth of the urethra. Castration before puberty is discouraged by veterinarians and is especially risky before the first month of growth. Many breeders are heeding this advice and waiting longer before castrating the bucklings.

The male goat urethra is longer and narrower than the female urethra. That is why urinary calculi are rare in female goats. There quite possibly is a genetic side to the occurrence too, with certain lines carrying a gene sequence for a smaller, narrow urethra. It is believed by some that early castration stops the growth of the urethra which leads to a higher likelihood of urinary tract blockage.

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“This is our boy Mayo. We lost him at only about six months old due to this. He was genetically prone to stones so there was nothing we could have done. The vet is inserting a catheter here after another vet clipped his pizzle.” Photo by Aurora Beretta of Texas

What if Your Goat has Urinary Calculi?

In some instances, with goats, surgery can be performed. Unfortunately, no surgery comes with a guarantee of success. There is a good chance that another episode of urinary calculi will occur. In some cases, snipping off the pizzle at the end of the penis will allow the stones to pass. You can do this yourself, but if you have a vet available, I would recommend bringing the vet on to do the procedure.

Some responses and remedies include flushing with ammonium chloride or adding apple cider vinegar to the goat’s water. Raising the acidity of the urine is the goal with prevention, and possibly offers a remedy. The thought process is that ammonium chloride acidifies the urine and may help dissolve the stones blocking the flow.

Prevention and Maintaining a Healthy Urinary Tract in Goats

Add some herbs to your goat’s diet that can possibly help with maintaining health. Chickweed is a common green plant and contains a high content of vitamins and minerals. Plantain also grows freely in most areas and contains a wealth of healthy properties. Allow the goats to browse on all the wild raspberries they can find. The leaves are great for maintaining urinary tract health. You can feed them dried raspberry leaves, too. A varied diet of browse in addition to good quality hay will help your goats avoid many health problems.

Other Helpful Preventions

Because adding ammonium chloride for goats can help prevent stones, it is often offered as a top dressing on the grain. It is already included in some commercial feeds. Be sure to use only a good quality goat ration for your herd. The recommended ratio for ammonium chloride is 0.5% of the feed.  Always provide plenty of fresh water and check that the goats are drinking it. If your herd is being fed the right nutrients in the appropriate quantities, you will be helping them maintain good health and reduce the chance of urinary calculi and poor urinary tract health.

Originally published in the Goat Journal 2020 special subscriber issueGoat Health, From Head to Hoof and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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