September 2018 Issue



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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.


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The primary cause of anemia in goats is the microscopic barberpole stomach worm Haemonchus contortus. Liver flukes can cause anemia, but liver flukes  usually disrupt  a few blood vessels and feed on  pooled blood. Anemia caused by liver flukes can slowly develop over a long period of time  but at nowhere near the level or speed that anemia  occurs from the barberpole stomach worm. FAMACHA, the field test for worms,  was designed and tested solely for detection of barberpole stomach worms. A less likely though increasingly  possible cause of anemia in some areas is Anaplasmosis.

Both the barberpole stomach worm and the liver fluke feed on blood, consuming red blood cells and causing anemia.  Protein depletion that results from a rapid reduction in red blood cells is called   hypoproteinemia.     Hypoproteinemia is literally a severe protein deficiency. A common external symptom is bottlejaw -- a swelling under the chin that worsens as the day passes and may seem to disappear by morning, only to re-appear the next evening.    Edema is the term used to describe   swelling that is the result of fluid leaving blood vessels and pooling under the chin.

Anemia is a life-threatening illness to goats from which they will not recover until you  (a)kill the worms by deworming then verifying the kill using fecal examination under a microscope, (b) administer long-term treatment (every day for 30 to 60 days) with Vitamin B 12 injections and iron supplements. There is no quick fix for curing anemia in goats.

The quickest  way to diagnose     anemia caused by Haemonchus contortus is to use the FAMACHA field test for  barberpole worms. Using your  thumb or index finger, pull down the lower eyelid and look at the color of its inner membrane. A healthy non-anemic goat has a bright red to bright pink inner lower eye membrane. Light pink is not good. White is definitely anemia and immediate treatment is required or the goat is going to die. Repeat: A goat with a light pink or white inner lower eye membrane is anemic and is going to die without immediate treatment.    You should attend a workshop teaching proper use of FAMACHA. Dr. Jim Miller, parasitologist at Louisiana State University, provides FAMACHA training at GoatCamp™ at Onion Creek Ranch each October.    Go to the GoatCamp™ page at    for information.

Determining the cause of the anemia and its  symptom bottlejaw  is the first step. The best field indicator of anemia is a high FAMACHA score (4 to 5).   But FAMACHA is only a field test and its results can be misleading because it only reflects the damage done by worms that have reached that part of their life  cycle where they have begun to suck blood.  FAMACHA does not and cannot reflect the damage soon to occur from worms that haven't hatched and begun to suck blood.    The problem is  much worse than FAMACHA  indicates.

You *must* have  fecal counts  done  by a trained  vet or other individual  using a microscope to  know what worm is causing the problem and  determine the level of infection.     The presence of liver flukes cannot be detected by a normal fecal test; a Baermann fecal sedementation test is necessary. Choose a dewormer appropriate for the problem and treat the goat.  The white-colored dewormers  (Safeguard, Panacur, Valbazen) don't kill barberpole stomach worms in most of the USA.  Do not deworm the goat over and over and over again. Over-deworming can stress the goat even more than it is already stressed. Deworm, wait a week, and have fecal counts done again.  If worms are still present, encysted worms have likely hatched, so deworm again with appropriate dosage.  If the dewormer isn't killing the worms, switch to a different class of dewormer and start the process over again.  Remember that if you are overcrowded and/or in too wet of a climate, goats cannot overcome worms regardless of what you do.  You have a management problem that must be corrected.

If you expect the anemic goat to be well quickly after deworming, you  will be disappointed, because this is only  the first step towards restoring the goat to good health. My protocol involving daily injections of Vitamin B 12 given IM (into the muscle) and daily  oral dosing of Red Cell iron supplement  for a minimum of 30 days and possibly 60 days  is  critical to restoring red blood cell production.   Vitamin B 12 is an injectable red liquid which must be obtained through a vet by  prescription.   If you absolutely cannot obtain prescription B12, then Jeffers sells Vitamin B 12 gel in a 15 ml dial-a-dose tube.  It is stronger (10,000 mcg) than injectable B 12 (3000 mcg) and I've never used it, but I suspect it is safe since B vitamins are water soluble.    I am guessing  I would probably use 4 to 5  ml  per 100  pounds body weight.

 Red Cell is an oral over-the-counter equine product. While it is possible to overdose a goat with iron (and copper), this probably won't happen  with daily dosing (except in kids) because rebuilding red blood cells happens  slowly.  Geritol is not recommended as an oral iron supplement for goats because it contains alcohol. Giving vitamin B 12 injections daily is safe because all of the B vitamins are water soluble -- what the goat doesn't use, it eliminates from its body in urine. A healthy rumen produces  B vitamins daily. An anemic goat is  not a healthy goat.   I dose 4 cc per 100 lbs bodyweight of Vitamin B12 and 4 cc  per 100 pounds bodyweight of oral Red Cell.   Monitor the goat's reaction to these iron products, some of which may also contain copper, and adjust frequency and amount of dosages accordingly.

Like humans, recovering from anemia is a long-term process in goats.  Fecals must  be done to determine if worm loads have decreased. After four  week of ' treatment,  re-do fecals and have a complete blood count test done to determine if sufficient red cells have been created. If not, continue the treatments for another  four weeks and repeat  testing.

A goat with a life-threatening level of anemia is usually  too weak to eat and goes off-feed. Until the goat begins eating on its own again, you  will have to stomach tube not just electrolytes but also protein.     I   mix eight ounces of kid milk replacer into one half gallon of  electrolytes.   From that mixture, I stomach tube a weight-appropriate amount into the goat.      A 100 lb goat needs one gallon (3,840 cc's) of liquids per day. An inactive goat needs slightly less. Divide the correct amount into three  to four  feedings and stomach tube it into the goat.

Offer the goat green leaves, alfalfa hay, and a 16% protein pelleted goat feed to help rebuild red blood cells. Keep in mind that anemia results from a massive decrease in protein caused by the loss of red blood cells to blood-sucking internal parasites. Recovery from anemia takes   months. Goats lose weight very fast and put it back on very slowly. Gain that is too rapid will be deposited as layers of fat around internal organs, so slow and steady  weight  gain  is best.

Other sources of anemia may come from external parasites such as blood-sucking lice, ticks, and fleas. However, the blood loss from external parasites pales in comparison to that lost from internal parasites -- with the exception of Anaplasmosis.

Anaplasmosis, while not the usual cause of anemia in goats, is making its appearance in some areas of the United States as an external parasite problem that causes anemia. Anaplasmosis is passed from goat to goat by insects (ticks, fleas, biting flies) that feed between infected and susceptible animals. Symptoms are generalized and often include extreme sensitivity to stress and overall listlessness to the point of weakness. The organism, Anaplasma ovis, can also cause abortions. This parasite enters and destroys red blood cells, thereby causing anemia. Diagnosis is done through blood testing. Treatment involves oxytetracycline 200 mg/ml (LA 200 or equivalent) injections and tetracycline hydrochloride top dressing of feed or mixing in the goats' water. Feed- and water-based treatments are less successful with groups of goats because the sickest goats will be the lowest in the pecking order and therefore they will be the ones to get the least. Severely infected goats should be isolated and treated individually. Eliminating the vectors (ticks, fleas, biting flies) that carry anaplasmosis is  difficult, so it is wise to treat all animals in the herd at the same time. In large herds, individual dosing is recommended since it isn't reasonably possible to isolate each goat.

Remember that goats are dry-land animals that need to eat from the top down (like deer) to protect themselves from internal parasites. The frequently mentioned, always needed, and too often not used management tool known as  culling  should be applied to goats that don't tolerate the worm load present on your  property if  overcrowding and other management issues have been corrected to allow  goats to survive and thrive.

Once again I thank  Jim Miller, parasitologist at Louisiana State University, for reviewing this article for accuracy.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas  9/2/18



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