Is Your Goat Coughing? It’s Time to Act Fast.
By Cheryl K. Smith
If you raise goats, sooner or later you will have to deal with pneumonia in goats. It is a common illness in goats, which can occur in both kids and adults. In some cases, pneumonia is infectious, but in others, it is specific to the goat and not transmissible. Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs, caused by some sort of irritant that affects the lining of the lungs.
How Do I Tell If My Goat Has Pneumonia?
Signs of pneumonia in goats include a moist painful cough, difficulty breathing, runny nose and/or eyes, loss of appetite and depression. Not all coughing or runny noses are caused by pneumonia, however. The first step when you notice that a goat is acting “off” or has some of the symptoms of pneumonia is to take a temperature. A temperature between 104° and 107° F, points to pneumonia.
Next, put your head down to the goat’s side, back a little from the shoulder and listen to the lungs. (If you have a stethoscope, use that.) If your goat has pneumonia, you may be able to hear crackles when she breathes.
What Causes Pneumonia in Goats?
The most common cause of pneumonia is a bacterial infection. Mammals normally have bacteria in their lungs. It is only when they have other stressors that they are unable to stop an overgrowth. In goats, the most common bacteria that cause pneumonia are Mannheimia haemolytica and Pasteurella motocida.
Viruses are common in goats and can sometimes increase susceptibility to respiratory infections by inflaming the throat and lungs. The lentiviruses, which cause ovine progressive pneumonia (OPPV) and caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAEV), can lead to chronic pneumonia in goats. Unfortunately, these cannot be cured and will eventually debilitate and kill a goat.
Lungworms can also chronically irritate the lungs, leading to pneumonia. They are most common in the cooler months and are spread when larvae are coughed up, or when they are released in the feces and then mature. They are killed by hot water and hard freezes, but because they use snails and slugs in their development cycle, they thrive in cool, wet conditions.
Lungworms cause a dry cough, which is easily treated, although it may leave the goat with a chronic cough if they are severe enough. A special fecal analysis, called a Baermann, must be done to definitively diagnose lungworms. Treatment is 2X the cattle dose of Valbazen for three consecutive days, or 2X the cattle dose of Ivermectin for three consecutive days. Repeat in 14 days.
Mycoplasma is a particularly frightening cause of pneumonia in goats. It is not a true virus and is not easily cured with antibiotics. It can cause a contagious caprine pleuropneumonia in goats. It also causes some of the same symptoms as CAEV, including inflammation of the joints, the udder, and the eye. The drug of choice for treating mycoplasma-related pneumonia is tylosin, or Tylan. Mycoplasma pneumonia is highly contagious and can be spread to kids through milk. (Read the excellent article on Mycoplasma at http://www.dairygoatjournal.com/86-6/mycoplasma/.)
Causes Of Pneumonia
• Sudden changes in weather
• Viruses, including CAEV
• Poor nutrition or dietary changes
• Stress of transport
• Microbes, such as Mycoplasma
• Bacteria, such as Pasteurella
How Can Pneumonia in Goats Be Prevented?
As with many health issues in goats, management is the key to preventing pneumonia. Make sure that goats have proper shelter and can get out of the elements when they need to. Avoid overcrowding and other stressors. Make sure they have a good diet, with adequate minerals and fresh water. When a goat does get sick, isolate her from others. This serves two purposes: It keeps the other goats safe from getting the illness and it keeps the ill goat from getting bullied by others when he is down. (A caveat here: if you only have a few goats and they have never been separated, you may determine that it is too stressful on the sick goat to separate her from her family.)
Goatkeepers with larger herds sometimes vaccinate their goats against bacteria that cause pneumonia, but in small herds, it is uncommon enough that the cost and trouble may not be justified. I have never vaccinated my goats against pneumonia and have not found it to be a problem. If you are interested, Colorado Serum Company makes a vaccine for this. The dosage is 2 ml subcutaneously (SQ) twice, two weeks apart.
Is Pneumonia in Young Kids Different?
While newborn kids are exposed to the bacteria by their mothers and other goats, they also receive antibodies in colostrum, which helps to keep them healthy. This is one reason it is essential for newborns to receive goat colostrum. Other factors that can lead to pneumonia include living conditions—overcrowding, lack of ventilation and lack of cleanliness; stress—travel, being suddenly removed from their mother, or even chased by children; or another condition that has injured the lungs—such as lungworms or a virus.
Young kids are of particular concern because they can die quickly once they get pneumonia. They tend to lose weight, become lethargic, develop a runny nose and rapid breathing and run a moderate fever. The first sign is their loss of interest in nursing. This is easier to detect in bottle-fed kids for obvious reasons.
Time is of the essence in treating pneumonia in kids because if it isn’t detected and treated early, their lungs may get damaged. When this happens the kid may recover, but will be prone to further bouts of pneumonia, development of a chronic cough, and may not grow as well as healthy kids.
If you find that a kid with other symptoms of pneumonia has a high fever, you can give him 1/4-1/2 of a baby aspirin. Because a fever is nature’s way of fighting infection, a moderately high temperature may not need to be decreased by medicine.
How Is Pneumonia in Goats Treated?
Regardless of the cause of pneumonia, giving the goat plenty of fluids is essential. Especially in colder weather, adult goats prefer warm or hot water. Some people add a little blackstrap molasses or even concentrated grape juice to encourage them to drink.
Kids that are not nursing or taking a bottle need to be tube-fed. All goat owners who are planning to breed their goats should make sure to have tube-feeding equipment on hand. You never know when you will need it.
In severe cases, SQ injections of sterile water will help, unless you can afford to contact a vet to place an IV for sterile water. Give Banamine or another anti-inflammatory drug to reduce fever and inflammation and Benadryl syrup (one teaspoon for kids) or another antihistamine for congestion.
For bacterial pneumonia, give antibiotics. Naxcel is labeled for goats and is considered the drug of choice for the most common bacterial pneumonias. It is a prescription drug with a short shelf life. Make sure to give the whole course of antibiotics, according to veterinarian instructions. For particularly serious outbreaks, some goat owners treat all exposed goats with a course of antibiotics to prevent more sickness.
If you manage your goats right, you can mostly avoid sickness. But every so often one of them will get sick, no matter what you do. Pneumonia is one of the culprits. This is why it is essential to look at your goats at least twice a day to make sure they are acting like themselves. If you catch it early, the odds are good that you can nip it in the bud.
Cheryl K. Smith has been raising miniature dairy goats in the coast range of Oregon since 1998. She is the author of Goat Health Care and Raising Goats for Dummies, both available from the Countryside Bookstore, 1-800-551-5691; http://www.countrysidemag.com.