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Why Can Goats Have Diarrhea?

Last Updated: 02.07.22


In large goats farms, especially the ones that use an automatic goat milking machine, diarrhea in both adult and baby goats can have serious consequences. To better understand the diarrheic syndrome in baby and adult goats, we need to take a closer look at the possible causes and symptoms of this disease.

Although diarrhea in goats is quite uncommon when it does happen, there a few factors to be taken into consideration in order to correctly establish the cause. The first thing a farmer needs to do is to see how many of the total number of animals in the herd are affected by the disease. Secondly, it has to be evaluated how long has it been since the first clinical signs were noticed.

Gathering up as much information about the moment and type of disruption in the normal daily routine of the goats is key to properly evaluating the possible cause of the disease. It is also important to correctly inform the veterinarian in charge and to act upon it as soon as possible, in order to reduce any possible consequences of the diarrheic syndrome to a minimum.


What are the symptoms of diarrhea in goats?

One of the first things to be noticed by the caregiver in case of diarrhea in goats is that the feces no longer have the usual shape and consistency. Taking a closer look at the stall flooring, instead of hard, olive-shaped feces, one will observe mushy chunks of feces with asoft consistency. The color they have will vary, as well, being a good indicator of the possible cause.

Taking a look across the stall, it is easy to spot those animals that show abnormal behavior, like: not feeding alongside all the other animals, or not ruminating as usual, spending unusually long time laying down, looking thinner and in distress. All of these signs will make it easier to correctly evaluate the number of goats affected by diarrhea.

Upon close inspection of each individual, one will notice that the coat in the rear end of the animals is dirty with feces. Depending on how severe the diarrhea is, the goats may also show signs of dehydration and overall malnourishment. Pale gums are another good indicator of the general state of the animal, and it may indicate that anemia is also an associated problem.   

What are the possible causes of diarrhea in goats?

In most cases, diarrhea is not an illness in itself, but rather a symptom of another disease. Therefore, it is very important to fully evaluate the entire herd’s overall condition before pursuing diarrhea-specific medical treatment. There are four main possible reasons for diarrhea to appear on a goat farm. Let’s take a closer look at each one of them.

Management issues, such as overcrowding, poor sanitation or feeding problems. Overcrowding leads to a high raise of stress levels among animals, which could end in diarrhea due to stress. Poor sanitation, especially over longer periods of time, could lead to bacterial infections, or parasites contamination of the goats.

Feeding management issues may include overfeeding, sudden changes in the feeding schedule and in the quality of the food provided for the goats, or feeding too much green grass all at once, without any previous transition to the summer feeding of greens. Just like with any other animal, especially ruminants, slow transition to new seasonal foods is key.

Parasites could be another possible cause for diarrhea in both adult and baby goats. There are quite a few types of parasites that could infest a goat’s digestive system, such as worms and coccidiosis. In such a case, antiparasitic treatment should be given as soon as possible, and since goats do not take pills, veterinarian supervision is advisable.

Bacterial and viral infections sometimes affect goats as well. Baby goats are usually more sensitive to them than adults are. Determining the right cause is vital in such cases, although clinical symptoms may be very similar because treatments differ. In case of bacterial infections antibiotics have proven to be very effective, while for viral illness symptomatic treatment works.

Toxic plants are usually avoided by goats, due to their natural instincts. However, if the plants have previously been treated with chemicals or are just too tasty to resist, then goats may become intoxicated by eating them. If a large number of goats is affected by diarrhea at the same time, it is an indicator that a toxic cause may be the reason.


What measures are to be taken in case of diarrhea?

The first step to be taken in case of diarrhea in goats is to take a feces sample and run tests on it. This is the most efficient way of making sure proper treatment is being administered. Once the cause of diarrhea is correctly determined, appropriate treatment under close veterinarian guidance should soon follow. Time is very important in these situations.

Since fast dehydration is a threat in any severe diarrhea case, adequate treatment should include rehydration solutions, that are to be given either in the drinking water or by injections, depending on the clinical state of the animal. Hydration is of utmost importance, especially in baby goats, to avoid kidney failure.

The sick animals should be isolated from the rest of the goats, for two main reasons: first and foremost to keep the illness from spreading among healthy animals, and secondly, to give them a better chance of recovering. Isolating animals when sick gives them the opportunity to rest and recover better, without the annoyance of other animals around them.

What can be the consequences of diarrhea in goats?

Adult goats and baby goats tolerate diarrhea in very different ways. While to the average adult goats, diarrhea is not a life-threatening condition, to a baby goat it can be. Because their intestinal flora is not fully developed yet, baby goats tend to have severe diarrhea much easier than adult goats do, therefore the risk of fast dehydration is much higher.

On the other hand, to the farmer, depending on the severity of diarrhea and the number of animals affected, it can mean a loss on all counts. Loss of weight and appetite of the animals means loss of productions rates. If antibiotics are given to the goats, any milk retrieved from them cannot be used for human consumption, not even cheese making.

In case of toxicity, especially with aflatoxins from moldy hay, there is a real risk of early-stage abortion. Since does become pregnant once a year, in the autumn, when there is a lot of humidity too, special attention needs to be given to the food quality provided to the goats. Their breed is one important aspect to be considered since crossbreds are more resistant than purebreds.

And so, both for the wellbeing of the animals and for financial reasons too, the best practice a farmer can use is prevention. Especially in the case of feeding management, parasite and toxic causes of diarrhea, prevention is not hard to do, not very expensive either, but it proves to be very effective.




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