When it comes to livestock it can be tricky to find the cause of what ails your animals without calling the vet out every week. Do you have a lethargic goat? One with a dull coat and no energy? Maybe she’s even come off her feed. Chances are you might be dealing with anemia. Anemia can be a silent killer among livestock- without keeping a careful eye on your animals sometimes the condition can get really bad before you know it.
What exactly is anemia in goats?
Technically, goat anemia is the term used to describe a shortage of red blood cells which can deprive the body of necessary oxygen. It can be a serious condition, so it is best to be knowledgeable about the causes, signs and treatments so you can be proactive and catch any cases of anemia before it’s too late.
What causes anemia?
The number one cause of anemia is goats is parasites. Usually an internal bloodsucking worm that goes by the name of barber pole (Haemonchus contortus). You don’t want to play around when it comes to the barber pole, we have yet to lose any goats to this parasite, but it did take down 3 of our alpacas a few years ago. In addition to the barber pole worm the following can also cause anemia in goats:
- Other internal parasites such as live flukes or brown stomach worms
- External parasites such as bloodsucking lice, fleas or ticks
- Anaplasmosis- a tick-borne, hemoparasitic diease
- Blood loss from internal bleeding or excessive bleeding from external wounds
- Kids- strain from pregnancy and nursing
- Poor diet without enough protein and essential minerals
How to diagnose anemia in goats
When I suspect anemia in one of our goats the first thing I do is check their color. Pull down the lower eye lid of you goat and check the color of the inner membrane. It should be a nice bright shade of pink. The more pale the color the more anemic your goat is. If the inner eye lid is white- start treatment immediately and keep a very close eye on the animal. I will say that some of our animals- are pinker than others. One in particular stays middle range on the color scale, even when I know she is not carrying a high worm load. So know your goat’s normal. And when in doubt- go ahead a treat.
Bottle Jaw is a condition where the the lower jaw of your goat swells. This is an edema in the tissue caused by anemia. If you see your goat with bottle jaw treat immediately, since your animal is probably already very anemic and closing in on a fatal level.
Most of the other signs of anemia are related to the general condition of your animal. Such as:
- They will be lethargic and just look sad and sick. They may have lost their “smile” and the sparkle in their eye.
- Their coat will be dull and of poor quality
- They may lose weight
- They go off feed
How to Treat Anemia in goats
When I have an anemic animal, the first thing I do is worm them. On our farm we only worm when we feel there is a need- some worm on a schedule regardless of need, but I think that builds up unnecessary resistance. Since the barber pole worm is the most common cause of anemia, we worm at the first sign of anemia. We use an herbal dewormer as a preventative, but when it comes to a heavy parasite load and anemia in goats we bring out the chemicals. Ivomec is my top choice, with Cydectin being #2 (both of these are given orally, by the way). Most wormers require you to re-treat in about 10 days to catch new eggs that hatch. Don’t forget this step!
If I see signs of external parasites, I will treat for that as well. But usually I start with internal and see if that improves things.
Our goats all have access to free choice minerals, but if a goat is showing signs of anemia I will also add some one-time supplements to help strengthen her and help as she rebuilds her red blood cells. Some supplements include:
- Nutri-Drench– this is a vitamin rich drench that just gives an overall energy boost
- Red Cell– an iron supplement. I give this once a day for a couple days just to help out. It is not a cure and be sure to dose for your goat’s weight so you don’t overdose
- Probios® – a probiotic to keep the rumen running healthy
- Vitamin B-12– an essential vitamin in rebuilding red blood cells. Read more about this essential vitamin: B Vitamins and Your Goat’s Health
Anemic goats are weak and not as interested in feed and forage. Feed your goats a quality alfalfa hay and high protein goat pelleted feed. This will help them rebuild their red blood cells. You may want to move them to a smaller pasture if possible, so they don’t expend what energy they have on roaming for forage. Make sure to keep their loose mineral feeder filled at all times.
If you have an anemic mother, whose babies are old enough to be weaned, consider separating them so that the mother has a chance to recover and get stronger. The kids probably aren’t getting real good quality nutrients from a sick mother and might be better off if they are encouraged to get their calories from forage, hay and feed.
If you have an animal with an extreme case of anemia, sometimes a blood transfusion is the only way to save them. This can be an expensive option- but if your favorite milker is suffering it is one you might consider. Most vets are not set up for this. When we had a very sick alpaca we needed to transport for a transfusion the University of Tennessee Vet Hospital was the closest option- over 2 hours away.
The bottom line? If you are a goat owner, or will be soon, the main thing to stay on top of is their coloring. Check your goats’ eye color weekly so you learn their normal and healthy color and you can spot any problems before they reach a fatal level. Sometimes if you wait until they show outward signs, it might be too late.
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© 2014 – 2017, Sarah R Toney. All rights reserved.