Onion Creek Ranch, Lohn, Texas
Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Lohn, TX
Lohn, Texas
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Although Caseous Lymphadenitis (CL) is by far the most common cause of abscesses, lumps and knots on the body of a goat can be the result of other conditions. Moreover, it is easy to mis-diagnose other health problems as abscesses.

Types of Abscesses:

Injection Site Abscesses may occur when producers administer vaccines to goats. Indicative of the immune system's response to the vaccine, these large roundish lumps usually disappear over time and without human intervention. Because it is so frequently used, the overeating-tetanus vaccine CD/T is probably the product best known for causing injection-site abscesses. Using dirty needles or re-using the same needle can also cause injection site abscesses. Flush erupted abscesses with 7% iodine and pack the site daily with Triple Antibiotic Cream until healed. This is particularly important in hot climates where flies and other insects are prevalent.

Puncture Abcesses occur when something sharp penetrates the goat's body and can appear almost anywhere . . . on the face, body, leg, or hoof. Plant thorns, nails. . . almost anything sharp . . . can cause abscesses. Flushing the wound with 7% iodine and administering a tetanus anti-toxin injection is usually sufficient treatment.

Animal or insect bites or stings can abscess, including but not limited to bites from snakes, spiders, scorpions, and dogs. Penicillin is advisable for serious punctures, particularly those caused by bites from another animal. See my article on Snakebite on the Articles Page of my website. The recommendations contained therein generally apply not only to snakebites but also to other animal bites.

Cheek Abscesses sometimes occur when the goat bites the inside of its own cheek where the upper and lower molars meet.

Tooth-Root Abscesses are usually seen around a molar in the lower jaw and may correspond with gum disease or broken/loose teeth.

Umbilical Abscesses, though rare, can occur at the site of the umbilical cord's attachment to the kid's body. Aspiration (drawing out) of the fluid using a sterile needle and syringe is necessary, followed by systemic (system-wide) antibiotics.

De-horning Abscesses can occur if a scab forms over the open sinus cavity before all infection is eliminated.

Umbilical Hernia Abscesses can occur internally if the hernia is not promptly treated by a veterinarian.

Liver, Lung, Brain, and Rumen Abscesses are internal and usually result from bacteria travelling through the goat's system; these abscesses are most likely Caseous Lymphadenitis. (see below) Goats infected with Tuberculosis often have multiple internal organ abscesses.

Wattle Cyst Abscesses occasionally occur at the base of one or more wattles or at the site where a wattle was surgically removed. Though normally present at birth, wattle cysts may not be noticeable until the goat grows. Wattle cysts contain a clear liquid which can be thick or thin, and the site may abcess when the liquid is aspirated (removed with a needle and syringe). Other than being confused with CL, wattle cysts are harmless.

Caseous Lymphadenitis (CL) is the most common cause of abscesses in goats. Goats with knots under their ears, on their flanks, or about their chests have a huge probability of being infected with the bacterium which causes CL abscesses.

Recurring (chronic) lymph node abscesses in goats are caused by the organism corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis. These abscesses can be both external and internal. While the bacteria is highly contagious and spreads through a herd rapidly, the knots (which appear at lymph-gland sites) can be slow to develop, sometimes taking months or years to become visible. No goat breed and no geographic area is exempt from goats being able to ontract this disease. Females contract CL at about the same percentage rate as do males. Wethers display a lower incidence of the disease, perhaps because they are generally terminal animals. The high infection rate in older animals confirms that the organism can be acquired at any time and that exposure increases with age.

Caseous Lymphadenitis in goats is a world-wide problem which continues to baffle scientists striving to find either a prevention or a cure . . . neither of which currently exists. Infection occurs through wounds caused by head butting, punctures, and shearing, by ingestion, and even occasionally via inhalation. Internal abscesses can cause major health problems. The disease can affect the lungs, liver, and kidneys; respiration may become rapid and difficult, and infertility can result from scrotal abscesses in males. Udder abscesses in females can seriously deplete milk production. External abscesses are most common under the ears in the head and neck region of the goat's body, while internal abscesses appear most often in the lungs. In decreasing percentages of frequency, external abscesses are found under the ear, on the shoulder, on the flank, and in the udder/scrotum areas.

All abscesses on goats are not necessarily CL abscesses. The bacterium actinomyces pyogenes also produces a fast-growing nodule, but it contains a smelly, greenish pus. A simple and inexpensive test can be done on blood samples or pus (exudate) to determine the bacterium causing the abscess. Most nodules . . . as high as 90% or more . . . . . are CL abscesses.

Breeders who let abscesses burst and infect the ground have created for themselves a very long-term problem. CL can survive temperatures of minus 50 degrees F. Some evidence exists that it is less survivable in hot, dry climates, but studies are not advanced enough to reveal at what temperature and how long the weather must remain very hot and dry to eliminate Caseous Lymphadenitis in contaminated soil. The bacterium survives better when mixed with dirt, hay, and feces and when it comes into contact with wooden rather than metal troughs, posts, fences, and feed bunkers.

Caseous Lymphadenitis is extremely resistant to antibiotic therapy because the thick caseous pus is contained in a tough fibrous capsule which antibiotics cannot penetrate. The abscesses usually develop slowly and contain a cheesy, dryish, white pus about the consistency of toothpaste. Lab testing on blood samples is the only diagnostic tool currently available to determine if a goat without a visible abscess is infected, and tests on goats under six months of age are very unreliable. Active, runny, open abscesses are most accurately testable. Older lesions don't shed enough of the bacterium to be readily detectable. The incidence of "false negatives" is high, particularly in goats displaying no visible signs of abscesses. This is one good reason NOT to buy goats at commercial auctions; you are usually buying someone else's problems.

Note: Eating the meat of CL-infected goats will not NOT transmit CL to humans; external abscesses come off with the hide and internal abscesses found in organs are discarded.

CL is chronic (recurring), incurable, and not preventable at this time. Existing vaccines were developed for use in sheep. If used on goats, not only will the vaccine provide no protection against the disease but the vaccine manufacturer (Colorado Serum) advises that it will also cause painful leg swelling and other unpleasant side effects. Autogenous vaccines --- vaccines made from a specific herd's infectious material --- are far less than 100% effective and may legally be used only on that herd. Goats already infected with the CL bacterium cannot be helped by any vaccine.

To manage an outbreak of Caseous Lymphadenitis in a goat herd, create a "sick pen" dedicated solely to CL-infected goats; use it for nothing else. Immediately remove an infected animal from the herd and place it in isolation in the "sick pen." NEVER let the abscess burst on its own and contaminate pen or pasture. When the abscess begins to feel soft or the hair starts coming off its center, prepare to open the abscess and remove the exudate.

Gather the following supplies: disposable latex gloves for all persons involved, a #10 disposable scalpel, several 3 cc Luer slip syringes (no needle required), tweezers, paper towels, 7% iodine solution, a rectangular shallow pan, a gallon of bleach, and several plastic bags into which the used paper towels, exudate, and contaminated gloves can be discarded and securely bagged. It is also wise to have a hard-sided container (like an old Band-Aid can) into which the scalpel and Luer slip syringes can be placed for disposal. Before entering the "sick pen," pour a small amount of bleach into the shallow pan and place it outside the pen for use as a "shoe bath" when exiting the pen. This should help prevent the spread of CL bacterium to other areas if by chance it adheres to the soles of your shoes.

Humans can contract Caseous Lymphadenitis; a skin lesion exposed to the bacterium is an invitation to this highly-contagious organism. Find a dependable, strong helper to hold the goat down. Cover exposed body parts with clothing and put on disposable gloves and protective eye gear. Enter the "sick pen" and place the goat on its side on the ground. Cut into the abscess perpendicularly to the goat's body . . . NOT at the base or at the top of the abscess . . . taking care not to allow the contents of the abscess to squirt on you. (Keep your mouth closed.) A "ripe" CL abscess oozes material the consistency of toothpaste. Using paper towels, squeeze the abscess until all of the pasty content is out and a bloody liquid begins to appear. Apply pressure from several directions, since most abscesses are comprised of several chambers closed off from each other. (This is why antibiotics are not effective; the medication cannot reach the encapsulated abcess.) A second incision is occasionally required.

Flood the interior and the exterior of the incision with 7% iodine, using a 3 cc luer-slip syringe. Be careful to keep the iodine from running into the goat's eyes, ears, nose, or other orifice near the incision. Bag all infected materials tightly, step into the bleach shoebath as you leave the pen to prevent the spread of the bacterium, and burn all items which came into contact with the infected exudate. Use Betadine Surgical Scrub or similar product on all exposed parts of your body and change clothes and shoes before going on to your next task.

Keep the infected goat in isolation until the wound completely heals. Repeat the above-outlined procedure several times at approximately three-day intervals, as needed, because an abscess tends to fill up again . . although usually with less and less exudate . . . until it quits draining and begins to heal. With really large and complicated (multi-chambered) abscesses, it is advisable to soak a piece of gauze in iodine and place it (using tweezers) inside the incision, with a bit of the gauze hanging out of the cut, so that you can pull it out later and re-clean the abscess. This will prevent the incision from healing over, so you won't have to cut the animal again. Complete healing, including re-growth of hair over the incision site, will take a minimum of four to six weeks.

Infected areas should be thoroughly cleaned of all contaminated materials. The top two inches of dirt may be removed from the barn, shed, or pen areas, but dispersing a solution of tri-sodium phosphate or similar agent onto the ground should cleanse the area. Agricultural lime may also be spread and allowed to remain in the soil. The extent to which the producer takes this clean-up depends largely upon how well he/she contained the CL outbreak.


Some producers choose not to cut open the abscess but instead inject one-half cc (1/2 cc) Formulin (10% buffed solution) directly into the lump, using a 22-gauge by 3/4 inch needle. A repeat injection may be necessary several days later. Great care must be taken in doing this as nerve paralysis and even death can result. Once the Formulin is injected, hold your gloved finger over the injection site for a few seconds to keep the liquid from running out. This must be done before the hair comes off the nodule, as the abscess is very close to rupturing at that point, but not while the knot is still very hard. Keep the goat isolated from the rest of its herd until the Formulin-injected abscess falls off and the skin is fully healed.

The advantage of using Formulin is that the abscess is never opened, so other goats are not exposed to the exudate. The disadvantages are that the producer is not absolutely certain what he/she is dealing with if the pus is not tested , and the knot remains visible for a period of time until the Formulin shrinks it and causes it to fall off the goat's body.

This writer is beginning to lean towards the Formulin method of controlling CL outbreaks in a goat herd, primarily because it contains the very-infectious bacteria. Formulin is used to preserve laboratory specimens. Contact a vet to find out where to purchase this product.

Today there is no adequate method available to get complete control over Caseous Lymphadenitis (CL) in a goat herd. This fact makes it very important that meat-goat producers urge vaccine manufacturers to research and develop a CL vaccine made exclusively for goats. Attached to this article is a Sidebar containing a form letter to Capra Products that you can fill out, sign, and send to them. Capra Products is working hard towards getting a CL vaccine developed specifically for goats and getting the required government approval of such a product. Completing this form and sending it to Capra Products is critical to this process, because vaccine manufacturers will not commit money towards developing new vaccines without prior evidence that there is a market to which they can sell their new products. Click Here for Form.

Conditions that may be mistaken for abscesses:

gtmed1Cud chewing causes a bulge in the goat's cheek during ruminal activity that may be mistaken for an abscess.

Salivary Cysts are painless swellings on the side of the face that are filled with saliva. Do not lance a salivary cyst, because the salivary system provides vital bicarbonates needed in digestion, and to do so can result in life-threatening rumenal acidosis. Instead, use a sterile needle to aspirate (draw out) the odorless, colorless watery or slightly blood-tinged fluid from the cyst.

Arthritis can cause enlarged lymph nodes that are often initially mistaken as abscesses when in fact Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis is the cause.

Joint infections may be accompanied by swollen lymph nodes.

Lymphosarcoma (cancer of the lymph glands) may cause swollen lymph nodes that look like abscesses.

Swellings caused by bites (snake, scorpion, spider, dog) may be mistaken for abscesses.

Bottlejaw (severe parasite infestation to the point of anemia) results in a fleshy loose pouch of skin under the chin.

Fights among goats (usually bucks) may result in swelling near eyes, horns, down the face, neck, and chest.

Goiters occur when the thyroid gland enlarges as a result of low thyroxine output and may be mistaken for abscesses.

Urethral rupture can cause swelling in males when urine leaks into tissues under the skin.

Fungal infections can cause recurring subcutaneous (under the skin) swellings called mycetomas that may be mistaken for abscesses.

Flank and ventral (in front of the udder) hernias usually can be ruled out as abscesses by visual inspection.

We also have another article specifically on CL.

Meat Goat Mania

Important! Please Read This Notice!

All information provided in these articles is based either on personal experience or information provided by others whose treatments and practices have been discussed fully with a vet for accuracy and effectiveness before passing them on to readers.

In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Suzanne Gasparotto is not a veterinarian.Neither tennesseemeatgoats.com nor any of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.

The author, Suzanne Gasparotto, hereby grants to local goat publications and club newsletters, permission to reprint articles published on the Onion Creek Ranch website under these conditions: THE ARTICLE MUST BE REPRODUCED IN ITS ENTIRETY AND THE AUTHOR'S NAME, ADDRESS, AND CONTACT INFORMATION MUST BE INCLUDED AT THE BEGINNING OF THE REPRINT. We would appreciate notification from any clubs or publications when the articles are used. (A copy of the newsletter or publication would also be a welcome addition to our growing library of goat related information!)

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