ANEMIA IN GOATS
Although there are several causes of anemia in goats, the primary internal parasite cause is the microscopic Barberpole stomach worm (Haemonchus contortus). Liver flukes can cause anemia, but liver flukes by themselves usually disrupt just a few blood vessels and feed on the pooled blood. Over a long period of time anemia can slowly develop from liver fluke infection, but at nowhere near the level or speed that it occurs from the Barberpole stomach worm. FAMACHA, the field test for worms that is mentioned in more detail later in this article, was designed and tested solely for detection of Barberpole stomach worms. A less likely though on-the-increase possible cause in some areas is Anaplasmosis, which is also addressed later in this article.
Both the Barberpole stomach worm and the liver fluke feed on blood, consuming red blood cells and causing anemia. Hypoproteinemia is the protein depletion that results from a rapid reduction in red blood cells. A common external symptom is bottlejaw -- a swelling under the chin that worsens as the day passes and may seem to disappear by morning, only to re-appear the next evening. Edema is the term that refers to the swelling that is the result of fluid leaving blood vessels (caused by hypoprotenemia, i.e. severe protein deficiency) and pooling under the chin. Anemia is a life-threatening illness to goats from which they will not recover until the producer administers long-term treatment with Vitamin B 12 injections and iron supplements. There is no quick fix for curing anemia in goats
The easiest way to diagnose anemia caused by Haemonchus contortus is to use the FAMACHA field test for worms. Using a thumb or index finger, pull down the lower eyelid and look at the color of its inner membrane. A healthy non-anemic goat has a bright red to bright pink inner lower eye membrane. Light pink is not good. White is definitely anemia and immediate treatment is required or the goat is going to die. Repeat: A goat with a light pink or white inner lower eye membrane is anemic and is going to die without immediate treatment. Producers are urged to attend a workshop teaching proper use of FAMACHA. Dr. Jim Miller, parasitologist at Louisiana State University, provides FAMACHA training at GoatCamp™ at Onion Creek Ranch each October. Go to the GoatCamp™ page for information.
Determining the cause of the anemia and its companion symptom bottlejaw is the first step. The best field indicator of anemia is a high FAMACHA score (4 to 5). Have fecals done by a qualified vet or veterinary technician to determine the causative agent and level of infection. Note: The presence of liver flukes cannot be detected by a normal fecal test; a fecal sedementation test is necessary. Choose a dewormer appropriate for the problem and treat the goat. Do not deworm the goat over and over and over again. Over-deworming can stress the goat even more than it is already stressed. Deworm, wait a week, and have fecal counts done. If worms are still present, encysted worms have likely hatched, so deworm again with appropriate dosage.
Producers who expect the anemic goat to be well quickly after deworming will be disappointed, because they've taken only the first step towards restoring the goat to good health. Daily injections of Vitamin B 12 given IM (into the muscle) and weekly oral dosing of Red Cell iron supplement or injectable iron for a minimum of two weeks are important supportive therapies. Vitamin B 12 is an injectable red liquid which must be obtained through a vet's prescription. Red Cell is an orally-dosed over-the-counter equine product. Ferrodex 100 and Dextran iron injectables are available OTC in most states. While it is possible to overdose a goat with iron (and copper), this probably won't happen even with daily dosing (except in kids) because rebuilding red blood cells occurs slowly. However, it is best to err on the side of safety and dose the iron daily for a few days and then weekly thereafter. Geritol is not recommended as an oral iron supplement for goats because it contains alcohol. Giving vitamin B 12 injections daily is safe because all of the B vitamins are water soluble -- what the goat doesn't use, it eliminates from its body in urine. A healthy rumen produces its own B vitamins daily. An anemic goat is obviously not a healthy goat. Estimated dosing for Vitamin B 12 is 4 cc per 100 pounds bodyweight; for Red Cell, 6 cc per 100 pounds bodyweight; for injectable Ferrodex 100, 4 cc per 100 pounds bodyweight. Producers should monitor the goat's reaction to these iron products, some of which may also contain copper, and adjust frequency and amount of dosages accordingly.
Recovering from anemia is a long-term process in both humans and goats. Progress in goats can be monitored by FAMACHA and fecals can be done to determine if worm loads have decreased. After two weeks' treatment, during which time the producer usually has to stomach tube nutrients into the off-feed, weak, and very ill goat, re-do fecals and have a complete blood count test done to determine if sufficient red cells have been created. If not, continue the treatments for another two weeks and repeat the testing.
A goat with a life-threatening level of anemia usually is too weak to eat and goes off-feed. Until the goat begins eating on its own again, the producer will have to stomach tube not just electrolytes but also protein into the goat. Since Entrolyte oral nutritional supplement is no longer made by Pfizer, the producer can mix a protein-based powder into ruminant electrolytes. Add enough goat kid milk replacer into water to make an eight-ounce bottle and pour it into a half-gallon of electrolytes. It seems logical to this writer than eight ounces of whole goat's milk should be able to be used in place of the goat kid milk replacer; however, the producer is urged to check with a qualified goat veterinarian before using this as an alternative. A 100 lb goat needs one gallon of liquids per day. An inactive goat needs slightly less. Divide the amount into two or three feedings and stomach tube it into the goat.
Offer the goat green leaves, alfalfa hay, and high protein pelleted goat feed to help rebuild red blood cells. Keep in mind that anemia results from a massive decrease in protein caused by the loss of red blood cells to blood-sucking internal parasites. Recovery from anemia can take weeks and sometimes months. Goats lose weight very fast and put it back on very slowly. Gain that is too rapid will be deposited as layers of fat around internal organs, so slow and steady re-gain of weight by a recovering goat is best.
Other sources of anemia may come from external parasites such as blood-sucking lice, ticks, and fleas. However, the blood loss from external parasites pales in comparison to that lost from internal parasites -- with the exception of anaplasmosis.
Anaplasmosis, while not the usual cause of anemia in goats, is making its appearance in some areas of the United States as an external parasite problem that causes anemia. Anaplasmosis is passed from goat to goat by insects (ticks, fleas, biting flies) that feed between infected and susceptible animals. Symptoms are generalized and often include extreme sensitivity to stress and overall listlessness to the point of weakness. The organism, Anaplasma ovis, can also cause abortions. This parasite enters and destroys red blood cells, thereby causing anemia. Diagnosis is done through blood testing. Treatment involves oxytetracycline 200 mg/ml (LA 200 or equivalent) injections and tetracycline hydrochloride top dressing of feed or mixing in the goats' water. Feed- and water-based treatments are less successful with groups of goats because the sickest goats will be the lowest in the pecking order and therefore they will be the ones to get the least. Severely infected goats should be isolated and treated individually. Eliminating the vectors (ticks, fleas, biting flies) that carry anaplasmosis is very difficult, so it is wise to treat all animals in the herd at the same time. In large herds, individual dosing is recommended since it isn't reasonably possible to isolate each goat.
The producer should remember that goats are dry-land animals that need to eat from the top down (like deer) to protect themselves from internal parasites. The frequently mentioned, always needed, and too often not used management tool known as culling should be applied to goats that don't tolerate the worm load present on the producer's property. Overcrowding and other management issues should be changed to better permit goats to survive and thrive.
This writer once again thanks Dr. Jim Miller, parasitologist at Louisiana State University, for reviewing this article for accuracy.