Respiratory disease is a common problem with goats. As a practicing veterinarian, I see many of these animals after treatment has already been attempted and sometimes I see them when it’s already too late. I recently surveyed a large group of veterinarians with a special interest in goats and asked them what they most wanted goat producers to understand about pneumonia in goats. Here are their answers.
- Environment matters.
Dust, the weather, overcrowding, travel, new animal introductions, stress, parasites and nutrition all play a role in an animal’s susceptibility to respiratory disease. Protein and trace mineral nutrition are the foundation of disease control. Animals should have access to high quality feeds according to their level of production and all animals need access to a loose trace mineral at all times. It’s amazing at how animals can come through a disease challenge if their nutrition is on point. You have no control over the weather and travel and the purchase of new animals may just be a fact of life for your enterprise, but you do have the ability to limit the risk of pneumonia that these things bring. Shelter, quarantine of new animals and a sustainable parasite control plan can all be protective against pneumonia.
- It’s all about timing.
Veterinarians get lots of requests for “better” antibiotics. In fact, the success of treatment is tied much more closely to the timing of treatment than the drug used. Bacteria can double in number every 15-30 minutes and all the while, they are doing damage to the lungs. When you consider this in light of the fact that our prey-type species are programmed to pretend they are not sick until they just can’t fake it anymore, you can see how quickly things can get out of hand. So, spend time observing your animals daily and understand their normal rhythms. Then, when they are first “off,” you’ll more easily recognize it and, most importantly, take appropriate action.
- Get in the habit of taking temperatures on all sick animals.
The normal range for rectal temperature in goats is 101.5-103.5o. Keep a digital thermometer in your house or barn labeled for animals – don’t want to get it confused with the human one! When you observe an animal that is just not acting right, taking their temperature is a good place to start. Now, a lot of things besides pneumonia can cause a fever, so that’s not the final word, but if they have a fever, you know your instincts were correct that something wasn’t right and this is important information to give your veterinarian when you call.
- Please don’t give a bunch of drugs and then call.
Often owners will give two or three different drugs over the course of a day or two and then call for help. This causes several problems. First, the way antibiotics work, some antibiotics can actually interfere with the other’s ability to kill the bacteria. So, when you call your veterinarian, because of the drugs that have already been given, their treatment options may be extremely limited. Further, antibiotics need time to work. Not giving a drug time to work before giving another is not much different than giving two at the same time.
- Antibiotic use is not straightforward.
We just talked about how giving two drugs at the same time can cause them to be ineffective, but there are other issues with antibiotic use that need to be considered. Antibiotics have effects everywhere in the body, not just on the lung tissue. This matters because when animals are already not eating well from being sick, overuse of antibiotics can kill the healthy bacteria in their rumen, making the situation worse.
There is only one drug that is labeled for respiratory disease in goats and that is Naxcel®. All other antibiotics used are off-label and therefore must be given under the direction of a veterinarian. When these drugs are used off-label, the withdrawal time listed on the bottle no longer applies: it will be longer. When you use these medications without the guidance of a veterinarian to provide these extended withdrawals, drug residues occur and are identified in edible products. And, it’s not just antibiotics. Other misused drugs show up too. Recently, a list of the most common violative residues in goats was published and included a dewormer (moxidectin or Cydectin®), an anti-inflammatory (flunixin or Banamine® and its generics) and antibiotics ciprofloxacin, enrofloxacin (both from Baytril® use), oxytetracycline (Liquamycin® LA-200 and its generics) and penicillin. It’s important to note that all use of Baytril® in goats is illegal. When drugs are misused, not only are there legal ramifications, but they become less effective over time.
- Lungworms are extremely rare.
Although lungworms do exist, they are very rare, especially in the southern U.S. For this reason, don’t assume that an animal who doesn’t respond to antibiotics for apparent pneumonia has lungworms and needs to be dewormed. Especially in the south, the risk of Hemonchus resistance to dewormers is much, much higher than the risk of lungworms and so the use of dewormers in this way will accelerate the rate of failure of deworming drugs.
- There is little to no evidence to support using cattle vaccines in goats.
There can be a temptation to use the cattle respiratory disease vaccines in goats to prevent pneumonia. Although goats get some of the same bacteria and viruses as cattle do, they are different strains and currently there is no evidence that cattle vaccines are protective against pneumonia in goats.
- Breathing fast does not equal pneumonia.
Just as I said above in #3 that a fever doesn’t equal pneumonia, neither does breathing fast or hard. Here are a couple of examples: a 5-month-old Angora wether with a temperature of 104.6o and a respiratory rate of 78 breaths per minute and a 6-month-old Boer wether with a temperature of 105o and a respiratory rate of 100 breaths per minute. Both are not eating and both have a lack of rumen (stomach) motility. All of these are signs of pneumonia and based on these parameters, both had been treated for pneumonia before coming to see me. After my examination, I determined that the Angora had copper toxicity and the Boer had grain overload. The delay in proper diagnosis causes animals to needlessly suffer and sometimes die. It is very important that ill animals receive a complete evaluation by a veterinarian in order to get a timely and accurate diagnosis.
- Coughing is unreliable.
Coughing animals don’t necessarily have pneumonia and animals with pneumonia don’t necessarily cough. When someone calls me with a goat that is coughing and they want antibiotics for him, I always ask if he is sick and if he has a fever. Most animals who are simply coughing but are acting otherwise healthy do not need to be treated with antibiotics. They should be monitored closely. On the other side of things, not all animals who have pneumonia cough.
- Please be careful with internet advice.
One of the ways that I stay aware of what is going on in the livestock industries I serve is to peek in on internet discussions. Folks in these groups genuinely mean well and interact in order to share and receive support and advice. When I review answers to questions in these groups, I notice a couple of things. The first is that the advice is incomplete, often because there are nuances to a recommended treatment that might make it inappropriate in certain situations. Often the responses are knee-jerk or oversimplified and leave out important details. The second problem is that it becomes clear that the advisor didn’t read the entirety of the poster’s question. They often respond to the first keyword they see without fully considering the whole situation. I strongly encourage you to establish a daylight relationship with a veterinarian in your area. When a goat producer calls me for advice and all I’ve ever done for them is a 2 a.m. emergency C-section, we don’t have a relationship and shared knowledge that allows for me to dispense advice or drugs. If, however, I have seen a number of animals for this producer and been to his or her facility and seen firsthand how they operate, I am in a much better position to help them over the phone when needed.