September 2009 Issue



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Pinkeye in goats and Pinkeye in cattle are not the same illness, and vaccines to prevent Pinkeye in other species do not work with goats. Pinkeye in goats may be caused by several different agents even though the symptoms are similar. Pinkeye can be the result of infectious or non-infectious organisms. Since infectious Pinkeye is also contagious and is most commonly the type that goat producers encounter, this article will focus on it.

Non-infectious Pinkeye can occur in individual animals as a result of over-exposure to very bright sunlight, dusty hay, or blowing dust. Treatment is similar to that used in medicating infectious Pinkeye and will be discussed later in this article.

Infectious Pinkeye can be caused by viruses or bacteria and is medically termed infectious keratoconjunctivitis.

Pinkeye can be brought on by stress . . . stress from moving/transporting the goat, stress resulting from improper nutrition, stress caused by severe weather or dramatic weather changes, or stress arising from an underlying illness (abortion, pneumonia) . Stress reduces the immune system's ability to suppress the outbreak of Pinkeye. Do not underestimate stress induced through improper feeding. A poorly-fed goat is a goat on the verge of illness.

Flies do a great job of transmitting Pinkeye from goat to goat, so keeping the fly population down is important. Shows and sales are ideal places for goats to pick up infectious Pinkeye. The viral mechanism that causes the abortion disease Chlamydia often begins with Pinkeye. Sometimes the first recognizable sign of an impending abortion is Pinkeye. Certain types of Pinkeye, particularly Chlamydia-induced infections, tend to be chronic (recurring) because the goat becomes a carrier -- able to infect others and have repeated bouts of the disease itself.

Pinkeye can be a serious illness in a goat. Early signs of Pinkeye include runny, red, and swollen eyes. The cornea, the clear covering over the iris (the dark part of the eye), becomes hazy and then turns opaque (clouds over). The goat begins to lose its eyesight. If left untreated, blindness can occur. If corneal ulcers appear and perforate, the infection can travel to the brain and kill the goat. The eye can also rupture, sink into the eye socket, and infection can travel throughout the goat's body. If prompt treatment doesn't take place (in the latter case, removal of the eyeball and suturing the socket closed), the goat can die.

Some people insist that nothing successfully cures Pinkeye and that the disease has to run its course. This statement may have some degree of truth to it. However, producers can control Pinkeye and minimize its damage to infected animals by following the recommendations outlined below.

Remove the goat from its herd and put it in a clean, cool, dry, shady location out of direct sunlight. Sunlight aggravates Pinkeye and delays healing. Make sure the pen is small but well ventilated; if the goat has lost or is losing its eyesight, it needs to be able to learn its boundaries quickly so it can locate feed, water, and shelter. Keep a small jar of generic Listerine mouthwash in your medical kit. Put on disposable gloves, wet a paper towel in the mouthwash, and wash the goat's "tears" away. This "weeping" of the eye is the primary method of transferring Pinkeye from one goat to another, so clean the goat's face below the eye with generic mouthwash.

Injectable oxytetracycline 200 mg/ml (LA200 or equivalent) should be used sub-cutaneously (SQ) in addition to topical eye ointments. Dose oxytetracycline 200 mg/ml at 5 cc per 100 pounds bodyweight and inject SQ over the ribs with an 18 gauge needle for five consecutive days. If a chlamydia-caused abortion is occurring, injectable oxytetracycline 200 mg/ml must be used to try to stop the abortion. The potential for interfering with a fetus' bone development in utero by using oxytetracycline 200 mg/ml is minimal and far outweighed by the benefits of the drug.

The best treatment for eyes that have not ulcerated is to use Gentocin spray (vet prescription). The producer can make his own spray by purchasing gentamycin sulfate 100 mg/ml, sterile water, and dexamethasone from a veterinarian and mixing in three equal parts. Spray the affected eye twice a day for a minimum of three consecutive days. Note: Do not use this steroid compound on ulcerated eyes (see below). Powders and aerosols, while effective, are irritating to the eye, particularly if ulceration has occurred. Therefore, powders and aerosols are not recommended.

If the eye has ulcerated (the covering over the iris - the colored part of the eye - appears to have risen outward from the surface of the eyeball), Neomycin and Polymyxin B Sulfates and Bacitracin Zinc Opthalmic Ointment (Triple Antibiotic Opthalmic Ointment) is the required medication. Although a long name, this is a single medication available through your veterinarian. Buy several tubes and keep them on hand; the tubes contain only 1/4 ounce. This is not the triple antibiotic ointment available over the counter in drugstores. Triple Antibiotic Opthalmic Ointment is not an item that every vet keeps in stock, so maintain a supply in your emergency inventory. Terramycin Opthalmic Ointment, available without prescription, is an alternative product. Opthalmic ointments are relatively expensive, but there is no substitute for them. Apply this ointment a minimum of twice a day until the goat can see and the cloudiness/ulceration is gone. The goat may lose its eyesight completely for a period of time, but if properly treated (even if ulceration has occurred), sight will usually return, albeit sometimes only partially. It is not unusual for a white smudge of a scar to remain on the eyeball after the ulceration has healed.

Permanent sight loss may l occur if steriod opthalmic medications are used on ulcerated eyes. Do not use steroid products such as Gentocin Durafilm (cortico-steroids) or any medication containing dexamethazone on an ulcerated eye. Blood vessels must begin to grow back into the eye for healing to occur and sight to return, and steroids will interfere with blood-vessel regeneration. Further, if the organism causing the Pinkeye is viral, steroids make the illness worse fast.

While early stages of eye ulceration are not visible to the goat producer, a badly ulcerated eye can be diagnosed easily: a portion of the colored part of the eye (iris) looks like it is sticking out of the eyeball on a stem, preventing the goat from fully closing its eye. Ulcerated eyes may rupture and collapse into the eye socket or infection may travel to the goat's brain. If left untreated under such conditions, the goat can die. To prevent this from happening, any goat with a suspected ulcerated eye should be taken to a vet. The vet can put a vegetable-based stain in the goat's eye that glows in the presence of cobalt blue light to determine the extent of damage that the ulcer has caused. This is a simple test involving touching the white of the eye above the iris with an over-sized Q-tip that has been saturated with a special stain. This procedure is preferable to culturing the organism, because it is quicker and less expensive.

The vet can perform a Tarsorrhaphy by injecting the eyelid with a local anesthetic and sewing the third eyelid shut; at the same time the vet may inject a mild antibiotic directly into the eyelid. The third eyelid in a goat has a gland which provides some immunological protection and helps increase the blood supply to the eye. Stints (small pipettes through which sutures will be threaded) and dissolvable sutures will be used to hold the eye closed for about two weeks, allowing the eye to stay moist and healing to take place. The stints used to hold the eyelids together can easily be cut loose from the eyelid with a small pair of fingernail scissors after the sutures have dissolved.

Severe cases of infectious Pinkeye may result in partial or complete loss of sight and visible scarring of the eye. Pinkeye lasts anywhere from ten days to many weeks. While Pinkeye may well have to "run its course," damage to the goat can be greatly reduced by following this recommended treatment. Blind goats are obviously a liability to the goat producer.

Non-infectious Pinkeye generally falls into three categories: (1) Abrasions caused by outside irritants such as blowing dust or by the Listeriosis organism; (2) Vitamin A deficiency; or (3) Toxins, such as locoweed poisoning ("Dry Eye") or fire ant stings. Topical opthalmic ointments cited above are used to treat these conditions; in the cases of Listeriosis and Vitamin A deficiency, the underlying problem must also be cured.

Pinkeye negatively affects the productivity of a herd. Do not underestimate the impact of Pinkeye on goat health and institute treatment quickly to curb the damages.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto
Onion Creek Ranch 2009



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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.