What Diseases Can I Catch From My Goat?
Zoonotic Diseases and Their Treatments
Reading Time: 5 minutes
There are quite a number of zoonotic diseases or diseases than can pass from animal to human. Here is a list of those that you may encounter in the United States.
A feared virus, rabies is nearly always fatal. Because the disease is so feared, confirmed exposures usually result in the health authorities ordering animals to be culled rather than waiting for signs to show. Symptoms include excess salivation, confusion, possible aggression, and paralysis.
Prevention: Keep wild animals away from your livestock because they could be carrying the disease. You may consider a rabies vaccine if it is more common in your area. Avoid coming into contact with the saliva of animals that could potentially be vectors for the virus.
Treatment: If bitten or otherwise exposed to the saliva of a possibly-infected animal, prompt treatment with a series of rabies vaccines will prevent illness. If symptoms are already present, there is no treatment. Report to health authorities and cull your herd.
Contagious Ecthyma (Soremouth, Orf)
Orf is a non-serious viral infection affecting primarily the mouth but can be seen down the legs and around the teats. It presents as blistery sores that turn into crusty scabs and are usually in and around the mouth. Does can be infected on their teats by nursing kids. On humans, lesions usually form on the fingers, hands, or forearm.
Prevention: Orf is transmitted through cuts and scratches coming in contact with the virus. Because it can survive for long periods of time in the scabs even after they have been shed, preventing open wounds is key. Do not feed items that can cut or scratch your goats’ mouths. Quarantine new animals and always wash your hands after treating an infected animal. If showing your goat, you should be the one to open your goat’s mouth and not allow others to do so especially if they have been opening other animals’ mouths to look inside. There is a vaccine available, but consult with your veterinarian on whether it is needed in your area and for your herd.
Treatment: Most animals will recover within a month, but they can be re-infected. Repeat infections are usually less severe and happen more than a year after the primary infection. Human infections will also resolve on their own but may take a little longer.
Ringworm is a fungal disease transferred either by direct contact with an infected individual or by indirect contact with contaminated equipment. If you shear your goats for show, the clippers can become an easy vector of transmission. In goats, ringworm typically manifests with hair loss in a circular pattern or circular crusty raised lesions. In humans, the telltale ring-shaped rash with a clear middle area is indicative of ringworm. It thrives in warm, moist areas.
Prevention: Clean and disinfect clippers, blankets, and any washing materials used for your goats. Wear gloves and protective clothing if you are treating a goat or other animal for ringworm.
Treatment: Treat the affected area with 2-5% topical iodine, 2% chlorhexidine, 2-5% lime sulfur, or other topical antifungals. For more severe cases, your veterinarian may need to prescribe medication. Humans can usually use OTC antifungal cream for treatment.
The most prevalent cause of late abortions in goats, Chlamydia bacteria can cause 25-60% of goats to abort when a herd is exposed. However, the goats appear to gain some immunity for at least three years after exposure. This bacterium can also cause fetal loss in pregnant women.
Prevention: If one doe aborts, separate it and bury the placenta and baby to keep any other does from ingesting any part. Vaccination can prevent infection but doesn’t help the current latent infection. That infection will likely still become active late in the doe’s next pregnancy.
Treatment: If suspected, administer antibiotics to all pregnant goats.
Another cause for late abortions in goats, campylobacter has a whole family of related diseases that affect various animals. Infected goats may have diarrhea, fever, and vaginal discharge. This can spread through infected undercooked meat or unpasteurized milk.
Prevention: There is a vaccine created for sheep. Consult your vet about using it off-label for goats. Also, keep other goats away from any abortion remnants as ingesting them will spread the infection.
Treatment: Antibiotics may be used during a herd outbreak. Otherwise, goats will be fine to breed again after recovery.
A protozoan disease similar to coccidiosis and mostly affecting young kids, cryptosporidiosis causes diarrhea. It is not usually severe on its own but is often accompanied by a secondary infection.
Prevention: Sanitation is primary prevention. Contaminated housing should be disinfected. Kids are less likely to be severely affected if they receive adequate colostrum very soon after birth.
Treatment: Fluids and electrolytes as diarrhea runs its course.
While clinical presentation of listeriosis is often fatal, many animals can be asymptomatic carriers. They will typically shed the bacteria through their feces, infecting others. Most Listeria bacteria infections present with encephalitis that can kill a goat in four to 48 hours. Symptoms include one-side paralysis, stumbling/leaning, depression, moving only in one direction, and drooling. Sometimes the infection is in the reproductive tract and can cause abortions. This is very dangerous for pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and immunocompromised people. Listeria can be spread through unpasteurized milk and can still reproduce even at refrigeration temperatures.
Prevention: Avoid fecal-oral transmission. Also, do not give spoiled feed to your goats as it can cause listeriosis.
Treatment: If listeria presents in your herd, first change your feed. A large dose of antibiotics given very quickly to the onset of symptoms may save your goat, but their likelihood of surviving isn’t great.
Salmonella bacteria can often infect an animal but not cause clinical illness. They can continually shed the bacteria but not succumb to illness unless stressed. Salmonella usually presents with watery diarrhea that smells putrid and may contain blood or mucous. Goats may also have a fever and may kick at their abdomen or grind their teeth. Abortion may happen in pregnant does.
Prevention: Quarantine new animals. Protect food and water from fecal contamination. Isolate sick animals. Vaccines are also available.
Treatment: Fluids and electrolytes are critical to prevent death from dehydration. Antibiotics are controversial for salmonella.
Query Fever (Q Fever)
A widespread disease, Q fever can be latent for years. It often emerges when a goat is pregnant, resulting in abortion. The pregnant doe may or may not have signs before aborting, but if she does then she might have anorexia and depression one or two days beforehand. She will then be immune to abortion but can carry and periodically shed the bacteria indefinitely, including through milk. Humans will typically have mild to moderate flu-like symptoms that can become severe.
Prevention: This bacterium can survive for long periods of time and become aerosolized for inhalation; thus, it is very hard to prevent the spread. Prevent spread to humans by using gloves when dealing with abortion materials and wear gloves plus mask when cleaning manure out of a confined space.
Treatment: If you have a sudden rise in abortions, Q fever responds very well to antibiotics. It is not likely to be fatal in adult goats but is detrimental to birthing.
Although fairly rare in the United States, brucellosis is endemic in many other countries. It causes abortions in the fourth month of pregnancy, arthritis, stillbirths, and weak newborns. Signs may also include retained placenta and lowered milk production. Non-pregnant goats may be asymptomatic until pregnant. Most animals will only abort once and have normal pregnancies after. This disease can transmit through basically all bodily fluids including milk plus fetal material.
Prevention: Quarantine and test new animals. Vaccines are available in some countries. Do not buy animals from a herd that has had any positive cases.
Treatment: Antibiotics are not cost-effective in this case as the infection may still persist in lymph nodes. As you cannot even use offspring from infected animals as replacements, it is best to cull the herd and start over after thorough disinfecting.
Escherichia Coli (E. Coli)
E. coli is part of many farm animals’ intestinal microflora, and some strains are highly infectious to humans and other animals. It is passed through fecal matter. Animals are typically healthy as this bacterium is natural for them, just bad for us. Human symptoms include watery or bloody diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting.
Prevention: Wash hands thoroughly after being in contact with farm animals.
Treatment: For most people, the infection will resolve within five to seven days. Young children are at the highest risk for complications.
You can see the importance of testing your herd, especially if you consume the milk from your goats. Many of these zoonotic diseases pass through the milk, but they can all be killed through pasteurization. By knowing these diseases, you can prevent them in your herd.
Originally published in the March/April 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.