Anemia in Goats: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

It’s that time of year when about every other search engine term bringing someone to my blog includes “goat” and “anemia.”  I guess that means it’s time to talk about it again.  I know I’ve talked about it before, but not an all-in-one post.  It does seem like goats are very susceptible to anemia, the lack of red blood cells in the body.  It can be fatal if not treated.

Causes:

Blood Loss.  If there is a large blood loss due to an injury, that causes anemia.  The more likely cause of anemia due to blood loss is parasites.  This can be ticks, fleas, lice, or internal parasites (worms).  The haemonchus (barber pole or round) worm is probably the leading cause of anemia in goats.

Diet.  If a goat does not have a proper diet, it can become anemic.  Some areas do not have enough iron or copper naturally in the soil to provide it in the browse the goat is eating.  It’s best to check with a local vet to see if there is enough iron/copper in your area.  Also, just not enough food or poor quality food can cause anemia.  Right now, this is part of my problem because of the drought conditions we are facing.  The browse in the pasture just isn’t as good a quality as usual.  In addition, they want to eat the really short green stuff because it’s the only green stuff in there.  When it’s that short, they are more likely to pick up parasites.

Kids.  Let’s face it.  Those kids are little parasites.  When a doe is pregnant and nursing, she’s going to give her kids what they need.  It’s easy for them to become anemic when they have kids on them.

Kizzy’s triplets

Symptoms:

Coloring.  If you look at a goat, it can be hard to tell if they are anemic.  They might look fat and healthy, but checking the inside of the eyelid might reveal another story.  The paler the lid, the more anemic the goat.  Sorry for the picture quality, but this isn’t easy to photograph on your own.

normal and anemic

If you have a light goat with pink tender parts, that can also be an indicator of anemia, but this isn’t as reliable as the eyelid or gums.

Bottle Jaw.  If the anemia is severe enough it can result in edema (swelling) that is commonly called bottle jaw.  Immediate treatment is required if the goat has become this anemic.

bottle jaw

Behavior.  As they become more anemic, they will be tired.  They will get a dull look in their eyes and just act sick.  It might be like a zombie just going through the motions without any zest for living.

Condition. This will lead to eating less and losing weight and poor coat quality.  Finally, if a goat is anemic, parasites can be a symptom.  If a goat is sick, they are more susceptible to picking up parasites.  It’s important to do a fecal because they might also pick up other types of parasites, such as coccidia.  It requires a different treatment for this type of parasite.

Treatment:

Wormer.  I always look to parasites first.  Pour them for external parasites and do the fecal for internal parasites.  Always do the check for internal parasites because even if you have a good worming regimen (and all goat owners should), it is possible that the parasites have become resistant to that particular wormer.

Remember that the chemicals only kill the internal parasites at one particular stage of development and they are likely to be just as bad in ten days to two weeks.  It will require retreating them possibly quite frequently.  Some vets will recommend treating twice with one wormer and then switching to a different class of wormer.

Weaning.  Once you get rid of parasites, look at those other areas.  If they have kids, can they be weaned?  Chances are the kids are not getting much from a goat that is anemic and spending time trying to nurse doesn’t help them or their maa.  Wean them, get them on goat feed, give them a bottle, provide them with hay.  It’s not going to help anyone leaving them together.

Diet.  Because they are weak and don’t feel well, they probably aren’t going to eat well.  If they don’t have much of an appetite, your vet can provide you with some B vitamins to stimulate their appetite.  I always recommend probiotics when a goat doesn’t feel well.  It can’t hurt them, and it will help them use whatever food you can get them to eat.

You want them to eat as much high quality food as possible, but you don’t want to make drastic changes to their diet all at once.  That will cause other problems.  You can add a small amount of a new food (like grain) and increase the amount of food they get gradually.  I’ve even added a cup of goat milk replacer to the diet of my big goats when they are run down.  Again, you have to add it gradually, and it shouldn’t replace hay or grass.  Nettles are a great multi-vitamin to help them build up strength.

You don’t want them out wandering in pasture using up whatever they eat.  Confine them to a fairly small space and bring the food to them.  It’s a perfect time to cut the scrub mulberry bushes out of the ditch or the little oak and maple trees from the fencerow.  I will cut grass from the ditch for them.

I would caution against just providing iron supplements.  I know my son was anemic, and I had to give him an iron supplement when he was a baby, but iron is just a tiny piece of the puzzle.  You can actually give them too much iron and that will become toxic.  The same is true of copper.  You need for them to build red blood cells, not just increase the iron levels in their system.  It takes (I hope I remember correctly) twenty-one days to really make a huge impact on the number of red blood cells through normal means~diet.  There are other supplements that say they help with anemia, but the body has to produce the red blood cells, and that takes time.

Blood Transfusion.  If you have a goat that is severely anemic, about the only real chance you have to boost the pac-cell count is a blood transfusion.  It is a quick boost to the red blood cells to helps support the body to heal and make more red blood cells itself.  Many vets don’t have the facilities to do this, and you might have to take them to a larger facility or teaching hospital.

Prevention is the best way to deal with anemia.  That isn’t always possible, but when it does happen early detection and treatment gives them a good chance for survival.

Linking to Homestead Barn Hop.

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33 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Alica
    Jul 22, 2012 @ 18:25:08

    There’s definitely a lot to learn about caring for different types of animals. You’re a natural teacher!

    Reply

  2. Jen
    Jul 22, 2012 @ 21:34:44

    Good post.

    Reply

  3. Kelly Reich
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 08:49:22

    I will have to print this out and save it. I hope to have goats one day and this is a great article and will be of great use. Thanks again. I love learning about goats and hope to be a good owner one day.

    Reply

  4. Candy C.
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 17:23:23

    Great post, Teresa; lots of good, useful information! Thanks!! :)

    Reply

  5. tbnranch
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 20:43:37

    Great post, thanks so much for sharing your knowledge.

    Reply

  6. Donna
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 22:00:46

    What about copper deficiency and anemia?

    Reply

  7. Cheryl
    Jan 27, 2013 @ 06:27:14

    I care for a friends goats a few days a week. The goats pens are swept daily. They are wormed. And a vet comes to give shots. They get clean water daily. But just a few months ago a few at different times have come down with baffling symptoms. This last time this poor girl had a hard time walking. Stilted gait almost like her brain could not work with her legs.Can hay cause this somehow? She is being treated with B vit. Shots and antibiotics. She looks like she is coming around. She is 9 years old. these goats are pets and treated with the best of care. Wish I could talk with someone with goat knowledge.. Love to all cheryl

    Reply

    • Teresa
      Jan 27, 2013 @ 08:11:40

      The vet doesn’t have any ideas? I did just recently have a diagnosis of CAE in my herd, and she is about the same age as my girls. It does sound like that is a possibility. I wouldn’t know of anything in the hay.

      Reply

  8. william roy (@williamroy1979)
    Feb 17, 2013 @ 07:14:53

    good blog :) more info on anemia if required http://www.whatisanemia.info/

    Reply

  9. Morgan
    Mar 30, 2013 @ 10:07:40

    What if my goat is being like a zombie and he has white gums and his nervous system is weakening and he can not stand very well

    Reply

  10. Amy
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 23:47:00

    Hi, I have a doe that was born in 11/2008. In 2011 she kidded triplets and one doe was much smaller and ended up very sick, anemic, CD and other issues. By the grace of God and a good vet, she is still alive and doing well. This same doe just kidded triplets six weeks ago with the same small doeling. What are the chances that this is something genetic? From the start she neglected both these does, knowing something was wrong and left me to take care of them. Any ideas?

    Reply

    • Teresa
      Jun 22, 2013 @ 00:17:19

      Sometimes, they just have a small one because of position in the uterus. They might not have as good a blood flow while they develop. Some goats know when they can’t raise all their kids and will only accept one (or two). That’s the way they make sure the stronger ones survive. I’d say take the kid and enjoy a bottle baby.

      Reply

  11. tabitha
    Jul 01, 2013 @ 13:24:38

    ive got 2 baby goats that are 2 1/2 months old. one died friday night after i dewormed them thursday. the one passed the worms saturday. but she still has diarrhea. and her eye lid is white. ive gave her 20 cc of pepto 3 times a day, 30cc of gatoraid 3 times a day and 2cc of penicillin twice a day for the past 3 days..should i take her to the vet?

    Reply

    • Teresa
      Jul 01, 2013 @ 20:03:36

      I would definitely take her to the vet. At very least, I would take a fecal sample. Coccidiosis can cause the diarrhea. Round worms can cause the anemia. It takes different drugs to treat them. It’s best to have the vet do a fecal to determine what meds to give.

      Reply

  12. Jenny Mansheim
    Sep 23, 2013 @ 10:47:30

    I would highly recommend Pat Coleby;s book Natural Goat Care. I have raised my goats this way since 2007 and I have not had any issues with worms at all. I have however had an anemic goat last year due to the drought we had. She became uninterested in eating and very listless. I called the vet and he did just as I was going to do. He ran a fecal which showed no worms to speak of, and could find nothing wrong. He tubed her with oil and an electrolyte added, and gave her an antibiotic. I would have tubed her as well, but instead of an antibiotic I would have given a shot of vitamin C. She still did not improve. After searching all my books and the internet, I found she was cobalt deficient. She had all the symptoms. no appetite, lethargic and depressed. Her ears were also cold and her temperature was below normal. Any time a goats temperature is below normal they are going to die, unless drastic measures are taken. After giving cobalt diluted greatly in water then adding it to their own water, she began recovery. I noticed right away the improvement in the whole herd. When ever we have no rain and the season is dry, check their cobalt levels. Drought always causes a lack of vitamins and minerals in the land so they will not get the proper nutrients in their diet.

    Reply

    • Teresa
      Sep 23, 2013 @ 11:10:35

      Nutrition is always important. I cannot recommend just treating with any mineral without some kind of vet consultation; however, because there are some that can be dangerous if given too much. For example, too much iron is bad. You don’t want to give B complex shots too often.

      Reply

  13. Valerie D. Shepherd
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 14:07:44

    i wish i’d seen this before my poor goat got sick. he’s doing a bit better now, took him to a vet obv…but this is real helpful, i would have known he was sick WAY sooner if i’d read this first

    Reply

  14. bennie
    Feb 26, 2014 @ 11:58:25

    I am having all kinds of problems , especially with the little kids , some are small and look a little funny shaped like a dwarf , do know what causes this? ty for you help

    Reply

    • Teresa
      Feb 26, 2014 @ 12:10:10

      I really feel for you, but with no information, there is no way I can make a guess as to what is going on. Perhaps there is a vet nearby that could help you.

      Reply

  15. ted
    Mar 02, 2014 @ 08:44:25

    Thank you for all your help I needed all this information.

    Reply

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The information on this web site is supplied for general reference and educational purposes only. This information does not represent the management practices or thinking of other goat breeders or the veterinary community. I am not a veterinarian, and the information on this site is not intended to replace professional veterinary advice. This information is not intended to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your veterinarian. I disclaim all liability in connection with the use of this information.
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