August 2009 Issue

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GRASS TETANY (STAGGERS)

Grass tetany, also known as grass staggers and hypomagnesemia, is a metabolic disease in goats. Although often called wheat pasture poisoning, grass tetany is not restricted to wheat fields. This disease usually occurs in springtime in lush pastures, but it can also appear following cool rainy weather in the fall when cool season grasses and green cereal grains are beginning to grow.

Like prussic acid poisoning and nitrate poisoning, grass tetany kills quickly. Death often occurs within two to three hours of onset of the disease. It is basically a magnesium deficiency caused by an imbalance of potassium with calcium and magnesium that requires veterinary assistance to treat and producer involvement to prevent.

Symptoms include wide-eyed staring, muscle twitching in the ears and flanks, hypersensitivity to sound and touch, staggering, foaming at the mouth, and convulsions. Goats most at risk are lactating does (milk production involves the utilization of lots of magnesium) and older goats. Least at risk are young goats, wethers, dry does, and younger adult bucks.

Soil conditions and fertilization practices can contribute to grass tetany. Soils and fertilizers high in potassium and nitrogen can produce plants that contain high potassium and low calcium and magnesium levels that can suppress magnesium absorption.

If the producer can obtain veterinary assistance quickly, the proper treatment involves slow intraveneous (IV) administration of calcium and magnesium. This is not something that the average goat producer can do. In an emergency when a vet is not available, the producer can try to save the goat by treating it as if it had "milk fever" ( hypocalcemia) with repeated dosing of CMPO or MFO orally. See this writer's article on Hypocalcemia on the Articles page at www.tennesseemeatgoats.com.

Prevention is the key. Producers should offer quality hay free choice to goats that have access to pastures that can cause grass tetany. Goats should also receive a quality loose mineral properly formulated with higher levels of magnesium and offered on a free-choice basis.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto

ONION CREEK RANCH Lohn, Texas 8/10/09

Subscribe FREE now! Monthly issues with new articles and other educational information on meat goat health, nutrition, and management written by Suzanne W. Gasparotto of Onion Creek Ranch and Pat Cotten of Bending Tree Ranch. In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Neither Suzanne Gasparotto nor Pat Cotten are veterinarians. None of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.


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My thanks to Kent Mills, goat nutritionist at HiPro Feeds in Texas for fact-checking these articles as they relate to nutritional issues and to Dr. Johnny Needham of the Coleman Texas Vet Clinic for making sure that I properly described symptoms and possible treatment protocols.

Pat’s Potion for Poisoning that causes Frothy Bloat/Vomiting (this only works for frothy bloat and vomiting)

item7bPepto Bismol – 30 cc for 150 to 200 lb goat, 20 cc for 100 to 150 lb goat
Penicillin ORALLY- 5cc to 10 cc
Mineral Oil – 10cc to 15 cc
CD ANTI-TOXIN 10cc – 15 cc ORALLY

Mix the above ingredients together and use a drenching syringe to dose animal. Give it slowly as they may choke and gag from the vomiting. You will see relief almost instantly.

Inject CD ANTI-TOXIN subQ according to label recommendations.

Banamine (use weight appropriate dose)

  • Pepto Bismol coats the gut and esophagus.
  • Penicillin slows the growth of the bad bacteria that is opportunistic under these circumstances.
  • Mineral Oil also coats and helps move the toxins out. It also breaks up the froth/bloat.
  • CD ANTI-TOXIN provides protection from Type C/D Clostridium Perfringens
  • Banamine soothes gut pain

Can be repeated in 12 hours if needed. I omit the penicillin if dose is repeated but use all the other ingredients. One dose usually stops the frothing and vomiting.

Withhold feed and hay until goat is recovered. They can have water available but do not offer hay until 24 hours after the vomiting stops. Once they are eating hay for a 24 hr period with no problems you can slowly add feed back into their diet.

Dose with Register Supplies 1-888-310-9606 probiotic paste “SYNGUARD” which has a guaranteed analysis of 1,000,000,000 (one billion) colony forming units per gram of Bifidobacterium Thermophilum, Lactobacillus Acidophilus to repopulate the gut with healthy bacteria after the vomiting/frothy has been stopped for 24 hours.

Pat Cotten 2009

Contact Suzanne Gasparotto at
325-344-5775 for prices and availability.

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