Is your goat lethargic, sick, or does she have bottle jaw? All of these are signs of anemia in goats. Learn more about treating anemia in goats and how to get your goats back to total health.
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.
Your Complete Guide to Diagnosing and Treating 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 in any animal, so it is best to be knowledgeable about the causes, signs and treatments so you can be proactive and catch any cases of anemia in your goats before it’s too late.
What causes anemia in goats?
The number one cause of anemia is goats is parasites severe worm infestations. The most common parasite is an internal bloodsucking worm that goes by the name of barberpole worm (Haemonchus contortus).
You don’t want to play around when it comes to the barberpole worm. 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 barberpole worm the following things are also possible causes of 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 disease
- 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
So now that you know what anemia is and what causes it in goats, let’s talk about how to identify and diagnose anemia in goats.
You need to use your senses and be aware of the overall condition of your goats. Here are the 3 main things to look at when diagnosing 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 the goat has severe anemia and needs immediate treatment.
This is called FAMACHA scoring. The FAMACHA method was developed as a tool for those raising small ruminants to match the color of the eye mucous membrane to a color chart. This chart has 5 categories that correspond to the different levels of anemia. Category 1 (red or dark pink) represents no anemia and Category 5 (white) represents severely anemic.
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.
Checking eye lid color is something I recommend all goat owners do at least weekly. Put it in your care calendar or Goat Management Binder and make sure you check each goat so that you can fix any problems before they become life threatening.
Is Bottle Jaw Present?
What is bottle jaw in goats? It is a condition where the lower jaw of your goat swells. This is an edema (fluid accumulation) in the tissue caused by anemia.
If you see your goat with bottle jaw, your animal is probably already very anemic and closing in on a fatal level. You should start treatment immediately.
The goat in the image below has bottle jaw. You can see the swollen skin hanging down. You can also notice that the goat looks sick. Her eyes are droopy and are missing that sparkle that goats tend to have.
Overall Condition of the Goat:
Most of the other signs of anemia in goats 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 have loss of appetite and may go off feed
Any time you see a goat standing off by herself or not getting up when you come into the yard you should do some investigating to find out what is wrong.
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, and we live in an area that is very prone to barber pole worm outbreaks, 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.
Most wormers suggest that you to re-treat in about 10 days to catch new eggs that hatch. It’s best to do a fecal examination if possible to see if re-treatment is necessary.
*Note: Knowing your area and its parasite resistance is key to effective worming. In the past year I have seen Ivomec losing its effectiveness in my area and I now use Prohibit as my main dewormer of choice.
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.
My The Busy Homesteader’s Goat Management Binder will help you as you treat and prevent illnesses in goats. It’s got record sheets and checklists plus a bonus treatment guide for common illnesses such as anemia and a mini course on how to take your own fecal samples and how to do a fecal egg count in the sample to diagnose parasites.
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 the number of 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. I tend to give this as an injectable Fortified Vitamin B Complex. 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 a case of severe 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.
Your local vet is likely 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.
How to Prevent Anemia in Goats
Prevention is always the best medicine. So how do you prevent your goats from getting anemia in the first place?
Proper nutrition will go a long way in keeping your goats healthy. Make sure you are feeding them the right mix of hay and forage and not giving too many grains.
Check and make sure they are not too fat or too thin and alter their feed rations appropriately.
Here’s my guide on Goat Nutrition to help you feed your goats correctly.
Making sure your goats are not deficient in any mineral or vitamin will also help keep them in top shape and prevent anemia.
In addition to feeding loose minerals you should also make sure your goats are not deficient in the following minerals:
- Copper: Copper is very important to goats and can play a big part in their overall health and hardiness. Here’s more on treating copper deficiency using a copper bolus.
- Selenium: Selenium is an important part of reproductive health, so be sure your goats aren’t deficient especially around breeding season. Here’s more on identifying and treating selenium deficiency.
Cleanliness will play a big part in your goats’ overall health. If their barns are clean and their feed and water buckets are kept clean then they will be less likely to carry heavy loads of parasites.
This also means preventing overcrowding and making sure your goats have plenty of indoor space to get out of the elements.
Also remember to keep your barns and pastures as dry as you can. Don’t put your barns in areas with poor drainage and make sure your pastures can drain and dry properly so that your goats aren’t in wet conditions very long.
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.
Do you need more anemia help? Check out this FREE mini-course on Anemia in Goats. Me, along with 2 other goat ladies, will walk you through what anemia is, how to prevent it, and how to treat it. We even include a free treatment plan! Check out the FREE course today!