A goat that is unable to rise, has a high or low temperature, or consumes less food than normal should be seen as soon as possible. Irregular breathing is another sign that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Typically, a large animal hospital will have more experience working with goats than small animal vets. Call ahead, if possible, to let them know you are on the way and follow the instructions provided.
- Severe Abdominal Pain
Pain in the abdomen can be a very dangerous sign of illness. If it is severe, the goat needs immediate veterinary care. In some cases, this means going to the hospital emergency room. In other cases, it means being hospitalized for a short time to help treat the condition and ensure that the goat is stable and safe to go home.
The severity of the abdominal pain can help a doctor decide what tests to do. The location and pattern of the pain is also important. For example, a stomach virus or indigestion may cause generalized pain in the belly. In contrast, appendicitis causes a knife-like pain that starts near the navel and moves down the abdomen. Other signs of a problem include the amount of urine or feces being produced, the ability to pass a stool, or the type of stools that are being passed.
Another sign of a serious health concern is difficulty breathing. This may be due to a number of different illnesses in goats, including orf and respiratory disease. Other signs of respiratory disease are a high temperature, lack of interest in food and water, and sneezing or coughing.
The location and amount of a goat’s movement is another very important indicator of his or her health. A goat that is unable to stand or lie down for extended periods of time or seems lethargic can be seriously ill with a number of different diseases, including orf and respiratory disease. A lack of interest in eating or drinking can also indicate a problem with digestion. In some cases, this can be a sign of gastrointestinal hemorrhoids or a gallstone. Other times, it can be a sign of a uterine infection or cancer.
- Severe Abdominal Injury
While goats and sheep are very hardy animals that need minimal care, they still are susceptible to life events or physiological changes that can make their survival a challenge. Because they are herd animals, it is important to watch them closely and get them to the veterinarian early if they begin acting abnormally. Observed signs of illness or disease include irregular breathing, lethargy, and isolation from the herd.
The abdomen is a vulnerable part of the body because it is not protected by bone and has a lot of organs underneath, such as the liver, spleen, stomach, kidneys, and intestines. Injury to these organs can be severe, as can the associated hemorrhage. Injuries are typically classified as either blunt or penetrating. Blunt injuries can cause internal organ damage, including fatal internal bleeding and organ failure.
Hemorrhage due to a low-grade solid organ or hollow viscus laceration is usually relatively low volume and has little physiologic consequence; however, lacerations of the body wall from penetrating trauma may allow gastric, intestinal, and/or bladder contents into the peritoneal cavity causing peritonitis.
Symptoms of severe abdominal trauma include an inability to rise or walk, lethargy, tachycardia, narrow pulse pressure, dusky color, and shock (e.g., oliguria, hypotension). The gastrointestinal tract is often affected by penetrating trauma resulting in a rectal leak. Kidney trauma can cause flank pain and hematuria.
When severe abdominal injuries occur, it is very important to seek immediate veterinary attention. A thorough, organized trauma evaluation is done simultaneously with resuscitation, as well as fluid therapy and blood transfusions if indicated.
- Severe Head Injury
Although goats are known for their social behaviors, they can still get into situations that require immediate veterinary attention. Being a herd animal, if one member of the group becomes sick or injured, it can quickly spread to the entire herd. Therefore, it is important to monitor the herd closely for signs of illness and to bring them in for wellness exams on a regular basis.
Goats tend to be more active than many other domestic animals, and they can become injured quickly when they are playing or exploring their environment. Often, these injuries are not apparent until the animal is in a critical situation. For this reason, it is important to observe your goats for any changes in behavior or a change in gait (how the animal stands).
As with any injury, early treatment can lead to better outcomes. However, finding a veterinarian with experience treating small ruminants can be difficult. Many small animal hospitals do not accept goats, and even those that do may not have a lot of experience with large farm animals like sheep and goats. This is why it is a good idea to find a large animal vet near you that can handle emergency cases for goats and other farm animals.
If a goat is severely injured or untreatable, it may be necessary to have the animal humanely euthanized. The goal of on-farm euthanasia is to minimize distress and suffering, prevent the spread of disease, and avoid drug residues in the food supply. The best way to determine whether an animal needs to be euthanized is to ask the following questions.
- Severe Head Injury
Goats are a herd animal, and one major issue can quickly impact the whole herd. That’s why it’s so important for herd owners to observe their animals for changes and keep up with routine preventative care, including semi-annual wellness exams, annual bloodwork, and semi-annual intestinal parasite testing.
While goats are very hardy and need relatively less maintenance than other livestock species, herd health is still a big concern. Even with the best preventative care, herds may face issues that require immediate veterinary attention.
Irregular breathing, a lack of interest in food or water, and isolation from the herd are all serious indicators that it’s time to schedule an appointment with your local goat vet. If you notice that your goat’s temperature is high, this could be a sign of infection or dehydration.
A severe head injury is a very dangerous condition for small ruminants and can lead to death if not treated immediately. Symptoms include loss of consciousness, drooling or foaming at the mouth, difficulty standing or walking, confusion, a bruise-like discoloration around the eyes or behind the ear, and a clear fluid leaking from the nose. This clear fluid is not mucus but cerebrospinal fluid that has leaked through a skull fracture.
If you suspect your goat is in a critical situation, the MSU Large Animal Emergency and Critical Care Medicine and Surgery service is available to help! This service is staffed by a team of diplomates in the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care and is supported by 24-hour licensed veterinary technicians. They offer evaluation and treatment for all large animals, including horses, ruminants (cattle, sheep, and goats), camelids (llamas and alpacas), and pigs. To learn more about this service, visit their website here.
- Severe Head Injury
Even if you’ve been proactive with preventative care, sometimes problems arise that require emergency veterinary care for your goat. When this occurs, it is important to have a way to transport the goat to an animal hospital, especially after hours. Many people with small breeds, such as Nigerian Dwarf and Pygmy goats, use large dog kennels for this purpose.
Irregular breathing in goats is a serious warning sign that can have a number of different causes and diseases. Seek veterinary care immediately if your goat is breathing irregularly.
Head trauma can include any injuries that affect the scalp, skull, brain, spinal fluid, and blood vessels. Both internal and external injuries can cause this.
Symptoms of a head injury can be difficult to spot. Some signs of a mild head injury are confusion, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting, or a bruise-like discoloration around the eyes or behind the ears. A severe head injury can result in unconsciousness or a coma.
Limping can be a sign of several illnesses in goats, including foot rot, foot scalds, and herd disease. Look closely at your goat’s gait to see if they are walking differently than usual.
While goats and sheep are low-maintenance livestock, they still face a variety of health issues that can put them at risk for emergency situations. Establishing primary veterinary care for your herd will help ensure that your goats are healthy enough to thrive on your farm. Contact a local farmer-owned small ruminant veterinary practice to schedule your herd’s annual vaccinations, herd disease management/prevention, castrations, and dehorning. For more information about finding a veterinarian that specializes in goats and sheep, click here.