September 2009 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.

Use chalk line chalk (red, water-resistant) instead of a breeding harness on bucks to identify bred does. Even in wet climates, it lasts about two weeks.


Diagnosing and treating a goat that cannot support itself and walk on its own is difficult because several different conditions may have caused it.

Example: A goat cannot support itself on its back legs. If this is a pregnant doe close to kidding or a doe that has recently kidded, it could be a calcium imbalance commonly identified as "milk fever" but which is correctly named Hypocalcemia. A second possibility is that a heavily-pregnant doe has fast-growing kids in utero pressing on a nerve that is causing rear-leg weakness. Another scenario is that a pregnant or newly-lactating doe could have sustained an injury that would have prevented her supporting herself and walking.

Example: A goat cannot support itself on its back and/or front legs. If the producer is in an area of high numbers of white-tail deer and slugs which transmit this disease, this could be Meningeal Deerworm Infection. In this case, the producer needs to know that Meningeal Deerworm Infection usually affects back legs long before front legs experience weakness.

Example: A goat, male or female, adult or kid, cannot walk or support itself. Both sides of the body (bilateral) are affected. This could be a spinal injury resulting from having been hit by another animal. If the problem is on one side of the goat, spinal injury is unlikely. Spinal injuries are usually bilateral and sometimes affect only one set of legs (front or back), but most often in this writer's experience the back legs are the ones that quit working first.

These are several examples of why a goat may not be able to support itself and walk. The producer must try to diagnose the problem and sometimes must treat for several possible causes at the same time in order to help the goat.

With spinal injuries, sometimes the goat goes down fast. Other times, the goat loses the use of a pair of legs first and maybe but not always the second pair of legs in a day or two. It all depends upon where in the spine the injury occurred. The only way to truly know is to have a vet xray the animal's spine.

If it isn't feasible to have an xray done or the producer isn't willing to spend the money, listed below are the treatments available:

Remove the goat from the herd and put it in a safe place. Dogs or other predators can hurt or kill the goat if the producer doesn't secure the animal's safety.

Check the non-working legs for blood flow and pain response. Are the legs cold to the touch? In a pregnant doe's back legs, cold indicates Hypocalcemia. In other instances, cold legs indicate that blood flow has been cut off and the tissues are dying. The goat isn't going to regain the use of its limbs if blood flow no longer exists. Take a pair of needle-nosed pliers and pinch in between the hooves and at several places up the legs for signs of pain. Involuntary muscle reactions to touch doesn't mean that the animal can recover. A positive reaction to pain is a very good sign that treatment can be successful.

Dexamethasone injections given IM (into the muscle) every day for five to seven days should help reduce inflammation in the spine if spinal injury is the problem. Note: If the goat is a pregnant doe, dexamethasone will induce labor and cause her to abort. Termination of the pregnancy is probably desired in order to increase the odds of saving the doe, but this is a decision that the producer must make before using dex. Dexamethasone is a prescription steroid that must be obtained from a veterinarian. Declining amounts should be given over the chosen timeframe. For example, if the dosage is 7 cc's, give 7 cc's on the first day, 6 cc's on the second day, etc. Steroids should never be started and stopped abruptly. NOTE: Any time a goat has experienced damage to its spine, a vet should be consulted -- particularly when the use of injectable steroids are involved. Steroids can be very dangerous when used improperly. Veterinarian help is crucial.

If Meningeal Deerworm Infection is a possibility, treat for this disease along with any other protocol being used. The producer doesn't have time to try one treatment, determine it isn't working, then try another; the goat will die under those circumstances. Treatment for Meningeal Deerworm Infection is described on the Articles page at High dosages of 1% Ivermectin and Safeguard dewormers are required.

At the same time that dexamethasone injections are given, also administer procaine pencillin SQ over the ribs with an 18 gauge needle for five consecutive days. Dosage is five (5) cc's per 100 pounds bodyweight. If the goat is dehydrated and/or having trouble eating on its own, the producer will have to stomach tube nutrients into it. See this writer's articles on Dehydration and Stomach Tubing on the Articles page at

Build a sling with hoist for the goat so it isn't necessary to pull the goat up during the day and down for the night, thereby putting stress on the spine that will slow or prevent healing. Using an old swing frame or similar structure, fasten a come-a-long to metal chains (set in rotating hooks) that support a sling made of carpeting or similarly strong material. Pad it generously so that the carpeting and its rough backing don't cause sores. Cut a hole in the center so that a male can urinate and take pressure off the body's internal organs. The chains attached to the come-a-long will allow a goat that is down in both back legs to move around by using its front legs. It is important that both of the working legs be able to be exercised and that the producer perform physical therapy by bending and extending the weak legs several times daily. Keep the goat's hooves trimmed and the area under the sling raked of urine and feces to prevent hoof rot/scald. In cold weather, a heat lamp above and extra hay below will help keep the goat warm. In extremely cold weather, it may be necessary to put a sweatshirt on the goat.

Some goats won't adapt to this intensive care; if the goat gives up, it will have to be euthanized. The goat must work towards surviving. Being unable to move is a scary and vulnerable situation for an animal that depends upon the ability to flee and the safety of the herd. My philosophy is to try to help a quality goat so long as it wants to be helped and healing appears possible. This process is time- and labor-intensive and can last for weeks or months. Sometimes the goat never gets well -- even after all of the care outlined above. How long the producer is willing to put forth these efforts is a decision that he must make based upon the value of the goat and the time and energy involved in providing supportive care. This writer has had successes and also failures following these procedures. Even if the goat is xrayed by a vet to try to determine the exact location of the injury, it takes lots of time for healing to occur. Older and/or heavier goats are more difficult to get back on their feet than young light-weight animals. Spinal injuries in goats are difficult situations to overcome.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto



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