December 2016 Issue



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Life Threatening to Goats

A goat can become dehydrated so quickly that you can easily mis-diagnose the problem. A dehydrated goat can die rapidly. Even a partially dehydrated goat can require your help to survive. The rumen must stay about 70% water to function properly.

For both adults and kids, wide swings in outside temperatures make it difficult for the goat to control its internal body temperature. This is especially true of young kids. Dehydration sets into motion conditions that can lead to death. Dehydration is not just a hot-weather issue. Think of how thirsty you are in cold weather. Adult or kid, a goat cannot survive long without adequate fluid levels in its body.

Nearly every illness or injury to the goat involves some level of dehydration. A good indicator of dehydration is lack of urination. (A goat that is straining to urinate has a different problem. Refer to my article on Urinary Calculi on the Articles page of the Onion Creek Ranch website at Both diarrhea and fever remove large amounts of liquids from the goat's body. Anytime a goat is off-water or off-feed, dehydration is just around the corner. Sub-normal body temperature, which is either an indication of rumen-related problems or that the goat's bodily functions are shutting down and death is near, goes hand in hand with dehydration. Shock, toxicity, and infection all involve dehydration. If you don't rehydrate the goat, no amount of medication will save it.

Diarrhea is dehydrating. Diarrhea in both adults and kids is a symptom of illness rather than an illness itself. Something is wrong that is causing the diarrhea. You must determine the cause of the diarrhea before trying to stop it. Sometimes diarrhea is beneficial (aiding in the elimination of toxicity), but it always requires rehydration. See my article on Diarrhea on the Articles page of

You cannot adequately rehydrate a goat, adult or kid, by using a syringe filled with fluid. A 60 cc syringe is only two ounces and is too cumbersome to dribble liquid into the goat's mouth. Both the goat and you are going to stress out before a beneficial amount of fluid has been given via syringe. The less the goat is handled, the better for both of you. A 100-pound goat needs a gallon of liquid given in small amounts over 24 hours to maintain hydration. One gallon is 3,840 cc's. The only reasonable delivery method of this much liquid over 24 hours is a stomach tube. If you don't have an adult goat stomach tube and mouthpiece, make your own by following the directions in my article on how to do it on the Articles page at I don't know any place you can buy this item.

Dehydration and hypothermia (low-body temperature) are a real threat to newborn kids. A newborn kid comes into the world empty and vulnerable. Colostrum is essential to its survival. If the kid does not get this life-starting liquid within about six hours (weather conditions may cause this timeframe to be shorter or longer), it will dehydrate quickly and die. To save a kid whose dam is either unwilling or unable to nurse it, you must supply colostrum from the dam or colostrum replacer (not colostrum supplement). Weak, premature, and dehydrated newborns (kids with sub-normal body temperatures) must have easy-to-digest sugars (molasses and water or Karo syrup and water -- not honey and water) administered orally and Lactated Ringers Solution (vet prescription) given sub-cutaneously. Do not put milk products in the stomach when body temperature is 100*F or lower. When the goat is struggling to stay alive, blood is diverted to essential organs like heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys, while blood flow to the stomach is reduced, making the stomach unable to digest its contents. Undigested food becomes toxic and the goat dies. Electrolytes (Bounce Back, ReSorb, Pedialyte, or even Gatorade) should be kept on hand for oral rehydration. If these products are not available or if you do not know how to administer them, then the kid needs immediate veterinary intervention to survive. (Good luck finding a vet than knows much about goats.) In many cases, both oral and sub-cutaneous rehydration techniques are necessary to save a weak or dying kid. See my article on feeding weak or hypothermic kids on the Articles page at This information is also applicable to sick adult goats.

It is difficult to get enough Lactated Ringers sub-cutaneously into an adult goat; stomach tubing (or IV infusion by a vet) is necessary. When stomach tubing a medium-sized-breed adult goat, begin with about one pint of liquids per tube feeding to keep from overwhelming the goat's digestive system. As the goat gets better, you can feed a little more per tubing. Read Stomach Tubing Sick Goats on the Articles page at

The first step in dealing with a sick or injured goat-- kid or adult -- is to take its rectal temperature. Then address the likely situation that the goat is dehydrated, as well as the need for antibiotics or other medical treatments. Remember that a goat can be very ill as the direct result of dehydration. It doesn't take much dehydration to knock the rumen off its proper pH and put the goat into a life-threatening conditon.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto ONION CREEK RANCH Texas 12/3/16

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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