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Anemia in Goats: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

22 Jul

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.


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


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.


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.