September 2017 Issue



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Different Causes, Similar Symptoms, Similar Treatments

Listeriosis and Goat Polio are two very different diseases with extremely similar symptoms. Testing, if available, consumes time that you don't have to save the goat. I've been raising goats since 1990, and I've had the best results treating both diseases identically. Symptoms are similar and overlapping. As a general rule, adults tend to contract listeriosis while young kids develop goat polio, but this isn't written in stone. Over the years, many goat raisers have called me, telling me that their vet had them treat only with thiamine for Goat Polio and the goat was getting worse, but when they added my procaine penicillin and dexamathasone protocol, the goat got well. My experience has been that the problem is usually Listeriosis rather than Goat Polio, which is another reason I treat both diseases identically. When I hear of Goat Polio, it is usually in kids in over-managed and over-grained herds, especially show goat herds.

The information provided is how I treat Listeriosis and Goat Polio at Onion Creek Ranch in Texas. I am not a vet but I've been raising quality breeding stock since 1990. Use this information at your own risk and with appropriate care.

Listeriosis: Listeriosis is a brain-stem disease caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, which is found in soil, water, plant litter, silage, and sometimes in the goat's digestive tract. The bacteria usually enter the goat's body through the mouth and multiply rapidly. There are two types of Listeriosis: one type results in abortions, while the other causes encephalitis. Both types are seldom seen at the same time in the same herd. The organism can be shed in the milk of both carrier and sick goats. Listeriosis is potentially zoonotic (able to be transmitted to humans). Listeriosis is most often seen in intensive management situations and is more common in adult goats than in kids. Because some goats are carriers who never display any symptoms, it is possible to buy infected goats and introduce this disease into a previously uninfected herd. Listeriosis is not contagious from goat to goat. The bacteria is in the environment, waiting to infect a stressed goat. Listeriosis usually shows up in only one stressed goat in the herd.

Listeriosis can be brought on by feeding silage/haylage, suddenly changing type and kind of feed (grain or hay), parasites, dramatic weather changes, and advanced stages of pregnancy. The encephalitic form is most common, causing inflammation of the nerves in the goat's brain stem. Symptoms include some or all of the following: depression, decreased appetite, fever, leaning or stumbling or moving in one direction only, head pulled to flank with rigid neck (similar to symptoms of tetanus and advanced dehydration), facial paralysis on one side, blindness, "slack jaw," and drooling. Diarrhea is present only in the strain of Listeriosis which causes abortions and pregnancy toxemia. Listeriosis can be mistaken for rabies. Immediate treatment is critical. There is no time to waste with Listeriosis. Recovery is more difficult and time-consuming than Goat Polio. A goat can go blind and completely recover its eyesight and overall health if proper treatment is provided; such treatment can take days or even weeks, depending upon the severity of the illness and how quickly treatment is started.

TREATMENT involves administration of high doses of procaine penicillin (300,000 International Units) every six hours on a 24-hour cycle. Higher-than-normal dosage of procaine penicillin is needed to cross the blood- brain barrier to maintain sufficiently high levels of antibiotic in the blood stream to kill the bacteria. I use 10 cc procaine penicillin per 100 pounds bodyweight (double the normal dosage). I give procaine penicillin SQ over the ribs with an 18 gauge needle so the goat doesn't become a pin cushion from repeated injections and try not to give more than 6 cc per injection site, so I divide up high dosages. I also give Vitamin B 1 (Thiamine) injections, dosing at 5 cc per 100 pounds liveweight for 100 mg/ml thiamine every 6 hours. I start giving thiamine into the muscle (IM) and then change to SQ injections after five days. Thiamine of 100 mg/ml strength is required. The only injectable over-the-counter product with 100 mg/ml of thiamine is Fortified Vitamin B Complex. Prescription thiamine (Vitamin B1) is available only from a vet. Injections get the medications into the blood stream faster, and quick treatment is critical with this disease. Thiamine is an appropriate addition to treatment of any sick goat. Very Important: Continue procaine penicillin and thiamine injections for 24 hours after the last symptom has disappeared to avoid a relapse.

Dosing Procaine Penicillin and Thiamine (Vitamin B1)

Procaine Pencillin: 10 cc per 100 lbs. bodyweight every 6 hours on a 24 hour cycle

Thiamine: 4 cc per 100 lbs. bodyweight every 6 hours on a 24 hour cycle

Dexamethasone (prescription cortico-steroid) injections are used to reduce brain stem swelling. Dexamethasone will induce labor in pregnant does, but the doe is likely to abort anyhow, so ending the pregnancy will help save the sick doe. Dexamethasone dosage is 6 cc per 100 pounds bodyweight given IM and in decreasing amounts daily. Dexamethasone must be tapered off rather than stopped abruptly. I don't use Dexamethasone on young kids under six months of age except under the direction of my veterinarian. Steroids suppress the immune system, so they must be used only when necessary.

Dosing Dexamethasone

100 pound goat ---------- 200 pound goat

6 cc Day 1----------------- 12 cc Day 1

5 cc Day 2----------------- 10 cc Day 2

4 cc Day 3----------------- 8 cc Day 3

3 cc Day 4----------------- 6 cc Day 4

2 cc Day 5----------------- 4 cc Day 5

1 cc Day 6----------------- 2 cc Day 6

Adjust dosages for other weights. The goal is to finish the Dex injections in six days.

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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Supportive care, which means stomach tubing electrolytes and protein into the goat, is necessary until the goat is stabilized and able to eat on its own. For protein, I put eight (8) ounces of mixed goat milk replacer in every half gallon of electrolytes and tube feed a weight-appropriate amount divided into three or four tube feedings per day. For an adult goat, I will start tubing with no more than 16 ounces, but this must be adjusted based upon breed and age. See my articles on Stomach Tubing Goats on the Articles page at If you've caught the disease and begun treatment early, the goat may be able to eat and drink on its own.

Goat Polio: Polioencephalomalacia is a metabolic disease with symptoms that are very similar to those of the brain-stem disease Listeriosis (Listeria monocytogenes). Goat polio is usually seen in goats raised under intensive management conditions.

Polioencephalomalacia (also known as Cerebrocortical Necrosis) is thiamine (Vitamin B 1) deficiency. Doesn't sound very serious, does it? Well, it is life threatening to the goat. Any change in the rumen's environment that suppresses normal bacterial activity can interfere with thiamine production. Too much grain decreases the pH of the rumen, creating an acidic condition and predisposing the goat to Goat Polio. Glucose cannot be metabolized without thiamine. If thiamine is either not present or exists in an altered form (thiaminase), then brain cells die and severe neurological symptoms appear.

Causes of thiamine deficiency include incorrect feeding (especially feeding too much grain and too little roughage, i.e. hay and forage), eating moldy hay or grain, dosing CoRid (amprollium, a thiamine inhibitor) to treat coccodiosis, feeding molasses-based grains susceptible to mold (horse & mule feeds), ingesting some species of ferns, sudden changes in diet, the dietary stress of weaning, and reactions to de-wormers thiabendazole and levamisole. Each of these conditions can suppress Vitamin B1 production. The usage of antibiotics destroys flora in the rumen, causing thiamine deficiency. It is important to repopulate the gut with probiotics (live bacteria) after using antibiotics or diarrhea (scour) medications.

Symptoms of Polioencephalomalacia can be any combination of or all of the following: excitability, "stargazing" (nystagmus - involuntary eye movement), uncoordinated staggering and/or weaving (ataxia), circling, diarrhea, muscle tremors, and blindness. Initial symptoms can look like Entertoxemia (overeating disease) because the rumen's flora is compromised. As the disease progresses, convulsions and high fever occur, and if untreated, the goat usually dies within 24-72 hours. Diagnosis is available via laboratory tests, but the goat will be dead before you get test results back.

TREATMENT: Thiamine (Vitamin B1) injections are critical and, if the problem is Goat Polio, can result in rapid improvement if begun early. Thiamine, like all B vitamins, is water soluble, so the goat eliminates daily what it doesn't utilize in the rumen, making it difficult to overdose thiamine. A sick goat's rumen doesn't produce B vitamins, hence the importance of administering Vitamin B1 daily until it gets well.

Since symptoms of Goat Polio can easily look like Listeriosis, I use procaine pencillin (300,000 International Units) in addition to thiamine. Better to cover both possible illnesses with appropriate treatments when symptoms are so similar than risk the goat's dying. See the Listeriosis section of this article for how I dose and treat with procaine penicillin 300 I.U. Important: I continue procaine pencillin and thiamine treatment until 24 hours after the last symptom has disappeared to avoid a relapse. Unless it is a very young (pre-ruminating) kid, I also treat with Dexamethasone. See Listeriosis section of this article for dosing.

The key to overcoming Goat Polio is early diagnosis and treatment. Complete recovery is possible. Try to avoid this disease by decreasing high grain intake, increasing quality roughage, avoiding moldy hay and grain, and not using feed that is susceptible to mold (molasses-based/textured feeds). Goat Polio is almost always caused by improper feeding.

PREVENTION OF BOTH DISEASES: Feed your goats properly. Feed pelleted feed (3/16th of an inch pellets). No textured (horse & mule) feed. No silage/haylage; the possibility of mold is great. No moldy hay. Clean pens. No sudden changes in types of feed (grain or hay). Lots of free-choice quality roughage; this is especially critical in the latter stages of pregnancy. Don't overfeed on grain. Never put out grain free choice; always take up whatever hasn't been eaten after ten minutes.

NOTE ON HYDRATION/NUTRITION: You must keep the sick goat hydrated and fed. With Listeriosis and Goat Polio, the goat is usually off feed and water. This means that you must stomach tube nutrients (electrolytes, protein) into the goat. A 100 pound goat needs one gallon of fluids daily. That is 3,840 cc's. You cannot syringe 3,840 cc's of fluids daily into a goat without stressing both the goat and yourself. Medications won't help a goat if it dies of dehydration or starvation. Use the kid milk replacer & electrolytes formula in the Listeriosis section of this article to feed a goat that isn't eating on its own. Don't offer grain to a sick goat but instead provide easy-to-digest forage plants (weeds & leaves) and grass hay. Build a Sick Pen and house goats under treatment there. They won't survive in the herd and you won't want to have to catch them every 6 hours.

GOAT SHOW PARTICIPANTS: The manner in which many of you are taught to raise your goats too often results in Listeriosis, Goat Polio, Urinary Calculi, Laminitis/Founder, and other metabolic and nutritionally-related diseases. Particularly in 4H and FFA shows, many are beginners and rely upon the information and training provided by ag teachers, county agents, and judges. Forage-based feeding (leaves and weeds) and "horse-quality" soft-stem grass hay are vital to the goat's ability to digest its feed and keep its body warm. Sacked feed is appropriate if not over-fed and only once per day in the mornings (not evenings). Goats are ruminants, and ruminants are pot-bellied animals. A large rumen is an excellent digestive factory. Proper hydration (the rumen must be about 70% water to function correctly) and nutrition are critical to the goat's overall health and growth. Goats layer fat like deer; heavy grain feeding puts layers of fat around their internal organs. This isn't healthy on many levels.

For those goat raisers who are connected to the Internet, I recommend that you join my goat education platforms. ChevonTalk on Yahoogroups addresses goat health, nutrition, management, and goat emergencies, while MeatGoatMania is where my newest articles appear every month. Subscribe to these free services at or log on to Yahoogroups, search for ChevonTalk and MeatGoatMania, and subscribe there. If you aren't connected to the Internet, get connected. There isn't much good information about goats available anywhere, and although much of the information on the Internet is wrong, once you learn how to distinguish valid information from the garbage, it will benefit your goats. Onion Creek Ranch is on Facebook, but I need to TALK with you when you have a goat health issue, so call me or give me your phone number and I'll call you.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 9/12/17

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