ABORTION DISEASES IN GOATS
There are many reasons that a pregnant doe might abort. Some abortions are of non-infectious origin, such as butting by other goats that causes the fetus to die inside the dam, or the malformation of the fetus in utero which usually results in a spontaneous abortion of the pregnancy. The most frequent cause of abortions is improper feeding of pregnant does - usually under-feeding and often a shortage of energy (calories). Don't discount a heavy worm load as being the cause. Once you rule out management issues including nutrition, then start looking for less common causes. It is usually the simplest thing that is wrong.
Some abortions can be traced to infectious organisms like chlamydia, toxoplasma gondii, Q-fever, border disease, listeriosis, neospora caninum, camplobacteriosis, akbane disease, and brucellosis. Toxoplasmosis is covered in detail in my article on the Articles page of www.tennesseemeatgoats.com.
The bacterium chlamydia psittaci has many strains, some of which cause respiratory diseases (pneumonia), keratoconjunctivitis (pinkeye), and polyarthritis, but the two most common abortion-causing types are Type 1 and Type 2. This is an unusual bacterium because it can only multiply in living cells and replicates similar to a virus, making testing dead kids and placental tissue difficult or inconclusive. More helpful is testing the blood of an aborted doe for chlamydial antibodies, although blood tests do not differentiate between Type 1 and Type 2 antigens. The importance of having this information is explained below.
Chlamydiosis not only can cause abortions but it can also produce kids that are born too weak to stand to nurse their dams (Weak Kid Syndrome). If the nutritional level of the doe is proper and management practices are correct, yet weak kids are being born, then the existence of chlamydia should be suspected.
Symptoms of chlamydia can be confused with other health issues. Chlamydiosis often first appears as a brownish vaginal discharge as early as ten (10) days before the actual abortion occurs. This discharge might be mistaken for watery diarrhea, but closer inspection will reveal that its color and texture are visibly different from diarrhea and it is coming from the vaginal opening. The infected dam may appear active and healthy until the discharge evolves into pieces of fetal and placental tissue, at which time she may become lethargic and depressed. The doe may never go off feed.
Chlamydiosis can occur anytime during pregnancy. Depending upon the timeframe in which she was infected, she may abort a fetus or may carry to term and deliver either stillborn, mummified, or alive but very weak kids. Occasionally the live births have visible lesions. Placental material is always visibly different from its normal condition and should be examined by a qualified veterinarian. Retained placentas are common.
Female and male goats can contract chlamydiosis at any time during their lives. A goat can be a carrier and never display symptoms of chlamydia, or (if female) can have a chlamydial-caused abortion and continue to be a carrier. First-time kidders (first fresheners) and goats new to the herd are the most likely to be infected.
The chlamydial bacterium multiplies in the living cells of the intestinal and genital tracts. It slowly damages and then kills the fetus by preventing nutrient transfer from the dam through an increasingly thickened placental membrane. The fetus literally starves to death. Because this bacterium needs about 40 - 42 days to kill the fetus, a doe infected in the final weeks of her pregnancy may deliver live kids that are too weak to stand to nurse. You must be available and prepared to help the newborn, because the dam will not feed a kid that cannot stand. The dam will usually abort in her next pregnancy. Over a period of time, does in the herd may develop some immunity and deliver healthy kids to term, but this immunity will wane after a few years and the cycle of abortions will begin again.
Identification of infected goats before they abort is unlikely, although does who contract pinkeye should be suspected of being infected with chlamydia. Testing of aborted fetal and placental material or blood drawn from the dam at the time of the abortion and again three weeks later are post-abortion options. You should collect all aborted fetuses and placental material (using disposable gloves and containment bags) for prompt delivery to a vet or lab for examination and lab testing. Mummified fetuses are usually unsuitable for testing. You must glove up and manually go inside the aborting doe to feel for and remove all kids, dead or alive. Dead kids left inside the doe will decompose and kill her. Placental tissue is more important than fetal tissue. If the doe retains the placenta, diagnosis is more difficult. If immediate delivery to a vet or lab is not possible, refrigerate (do not freeze) the tissues.
A doe suspected of aborting should be removed from the herd and kept in isolation until the vaginal discharge has completely stopped. This can take as long as three weeks. The bacterial infection spreads when goats come into oral or nasal inhalation contact with vaginal discharges, aborted fetuses, placental material, and infected feces, so all remaining fetal and placental material must be collected and burned. Bleach or similar disinfectant must be used on the ground and on all objects with which the aborted materials came in contact.
Always feed pregnant does in feed troughs. Feeding on the ground can put them in contact with infected materials. Good hygiene is essential to prevent and control abortion diseases. Many abortion diseases, including chlamydiosis, are zoonotic (can be transmitted to humans), so pregnant women should not have contact with bred does; if contact is unavoidable, they should wear protective gloves, mask, and clothing.
Like most abortion diseases, chlamydiosis responds to the tetracycline class of antibiotics. A good preventative program involves injecting all breeding does with oxytetracycline 200 mg/ml (LA 200 or generic equivalent) prior to placing them with a buck and every 30 days during the pregnancy until the does give birth. Dosage is 5 cc per 100 pounds bodyweight and should be given SQ (under the skin) over the ribs using an 18 gauge needle. If you want to try to prevent or control abortion diseases through feed, then chlortetracycline hydrochloride (Aureomycin) can be added to the feed at a rate of five to ten pounds per ton. Because it is illegal (not FDA-approved) to combine a coccidiostat with Aureomycin in a feed ration, the coccidiosis preventative must be dropped from this mix but can be reintroduced as the kids are born. If using a custom feed ration is not an option, Aureomycin antibacterial water-soluble powders are available for use in drinking water; follow package directions. Feed-based or water-based treatments are not as effective as direct injection of oxytetracycline 200 mg/ml into each pregnant doe every 30 days. Individual injections are the only way to make sure that every doe gets a full dose of the needed medication. I've long said that if it is easy or cheap, it doesn't work with goats.
There is no vaccine available for chlamydia in goats. In early 2010, I read an article written by a Canadian producer who touted the effectiveness of using Colorado Serum's chlamydia psittaci sheep vaccine on goats. Having had extensive experience with abortion diseases dating back to 2001, I thought that this was likely not accurate so I investigated and found I was right. This is true only if the antigen being vaccinated against is Type 1. The Colorado Serum product does not protect against the Type 2 antigen, and that is the antigen associated with pinkeye-related chlamydia.
You should not rely on the chlamydia vaccine for sheep to protect their goats against abortions. In my opinion, the use of oxytetracycline 200 mg/ml as outlined above in this article provides broad protection against multiple abortion diseases. Oxytetracycline 200 mg/ml is the only game in town for trying to prevent most abortion diseases in goats. I've been using this protocol since 2001 very successfully. My thanks go to Bob Glass of Pan American Vet Lab (firstname.lastname@example.org) in Hutto, Texas for his input and review of the information provided in this article.
Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 2/11/16
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