Coccidiosis in goats is stressful enough but can kill a kid. But if you catch it soon enough, you can use many goat coccidia treatments for newborn kids.
Kidding season was a great success and your goats — both moms and kids — are healthy and happy. The barn is a little more crowded than usual and it’s harder to keep it clean. Then, two to five months in (around weaning time), a kid develops diarrhea, seemingly overnight. You get that under control with a little kaolin-pectin or probiotics and slippery elm, and then another develops it. Soon, if the culprit is not found, most of the kids develop diarrhea. Then, the worst happens — several kids suddenly die. What now?
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Assuming that the problems are caused by intestinal worms, some goatkeepers will deworm their herds. However, the thinking on that has changed over the years due to development of resistance by worms to various anthelmintics (dewormers). If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to get a fecal sample to find out the cause of the problem and then treat it.
For only about $100, you can get a microscope and slides to run your own fecals, and pay for it all in the first year by not purchasing the dewormers and anticoccidials that you may have been giving willy-nilly. You won’t have to wait to contact a vet or send the results to a lab for evaluation. You can even make your own flotation solution from salt or sugar.
Once a fecal is run, you may learn that the culprit is not worms, but coccidiosis. Coccidiosis is an intestinal disease caused by a protozoan in the genus Eimeria. These one-celled creatures are host-specific, which means that it cannot be passed from keeping goats with chickens, dogs, horses or any other animal. (There may be some crossover in certain Eimeria species between sheep and goats.)
These critters are normally present in goats, and their environment. Only when they overpopulate and get out of control are they a problem. The protozoa attach to and destroy the lining of the intestine, as well as interacting with the digestive microflora (good bugs that help with digestion). The more oocysts (the life stage at which the protozoa are released in the feces) eaten by a goat, the more likely a problem will develop. There is no transmission through milk or in utero.
Studies have shown that when goats are heavily infected with coccidia, they are also more likely to have higher loads of other parasites, such as stomach worms. This is undoubtedly linked to the decrease in good microflora.
Coccidiosis can affect both young and old and is spread through contact with infected feces. The effects are most severe in young, old or weak animals, which lack the necessary immunity. Included in this category are does that have just kidded and kids that are newly weaned.
Coccidiosis is also much more likely in stressed, hot or cold, overcrowded herds in unclean circumstances. In addition, it is more of a problem in wet, warm climates than in those with harsh winters or in the desert. I anticipated a problem with coccidiosis in the Pacific Northwest this year, because we had such a mild, almost non-existent winter.
Coccidia are often present in the digestive system of even healthy animals. Only when they have the opportunity to overpopulate do they become a problem. Because I anticipated a problem this year, I got my microscope out again and began to check feces of various goats, so I could get a handle on any problem that may be evolving.
How is Coccidiosis in Goats Spread?
Does that are infected at kidding may contaminate the area with oocysts that are released due to stress of kidding. Young kids that live in these areas are then at risk. Other stresses, such as moving to a new farm, feed changes or additions, overcrowding, or a drop in temperature, may be all it takes for a problem such as diarrhea to develop.
Kids are notorious for tasting things, so feeding on the ground is a good way to spread the disease. Illness can occur from five to 13 days after eating coccidia in feces. The main sign is diarrhea, sometimes with mucus or blood; dehydration, emaciation, weakness, loss of appetite and, ultimately, death. To make diagnosis even more difficult, some goats develop constipation and die without ever getting diarrhea.
Infection with Eimeria affects the lining of the intestine, which can cause pain and blood loss. A goat that recovers may still have ulceration and scarring of the intestine — leading to stunted growth caused by malabsorption. In worst case scenarios, the goat may even develop liver failure.
A clinical diagnosis of coccidiosis in goats is based on the number of oocysts found in feces that are examined under the microscope. The numbers of oocysts can be phenomenal, from tens of thousands to millions per gram of feces. In kids with loss of appetite and failure to gain weight, numbers may still be high with no diarrhea. Suspect coccidiosis in goats that are thin, unthrifty, and are not growing properly, even if you see no diarrhea.
How is Coccidiosis in Goats Prevented?
Because feces spread coccidia, strict sanitation is important. Some breeders regularly use a prevention program to avoid coccidiosis altogether. This involves using coccidiostats such as amprolium, decoquinate or lasalocid. These products can be added to milk, feed or water. This is easier if kids are raised separate from milkers, to avoid contaminating the milk supply.
Talk to your veterinarian to find out what he or she recommends for your particular situation. Make sure that you follow the milk withdrawal and meat withholding requirements.
Some other suggestions for avoiding problems include:
- Clean kidding pens between does.
- Keep kid pens or other areas as clean and dry as possible.
- Make sure to change food and water that may have gotten contaminated with feces.
- Cover hay or mineral feeders or mineral blocks that kids might be likely to jump on.
- Clip does’ udders prior to kidding if kids will be nursing.
- Never feed goats on the ground.
- Control flies, which can carry coccidia from place to place.
- If you are bottle-raising kids, consider separating them from the adults in clean pens.
- Muck your barn frequently, or remove manure as much as possible.
How is Coccidiosis in Goats Treated?
Treat early to reduce the severity of the disease process. Sulfa drugs, such as sulfaquinoxaline and sulfadimethoxine (Albon), and amprolium (Corid), available over-the-counter, are used to treat coccidiosis. Merck Manual (available from the Countryside Bookstore) states that amprolium has poor activity against certain species of Eimeria, so it may not be the best choice. In addition, it can lead to thiamine deficiency (also known as polioencephalomalacia) — so injections of thiamine or fortified vitamin B may be required at the same time.
Treatment with these two classes of drugs is usually five days long, as an oral drench. You also need to ensure that a kid with coccidiosis is well-hydrated because diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Keep treating for the full course, even if the kid improves in the first few days.
Veterinarians are now recommending a drug called toltrazuril, which only must be given one time, and works on the whole lifespan of the protozoa. This is in contrast to amprolium and monensin — which is effective during the early stages, and sulfa drugs — which are effective in later stages. The dose for coccidiosis in goats is two times that for sheep or cattle.
Some goat breeders use the “wet tail” method for determining when to treat for coccidiosis in goats. With this method, whenever a kid (particularly post-weaning) has a tail that indicates loose, watery stool, they treat. One of the reasons I like the sulfa drugs for treatment is that they are also effective against some bacterial diarrheas.
Ideally, goat owners will do a fecal exam as soon as they notice the slightest problem, so they can determine what organism — if any — is causing the problem. Other possible goat diseases include giardia, enterotoxemia, salmonella and many others.
One option is to treat with an anti-diarrheal product such as Pepto-Bismol or kaolin-pectin when a goat develops diarrhea, to see whether you can get it under control without the use of harsh medicines and while awaiting fecal exam results.
For those who prefer herbal treatments and prevention, tannin-containing plants — such as pine needles and oak leaves — were found in a Korean study to decrease coccidia egg counts.
Also important is that having spotlessly clean pens may lead to more clinical coccidiosis in kids, because they need some exposure to get immunized to the effect of the coccidia. Finally, overuse of anticoccidial medications can, like with other intestinal parasites, lead to resistance and eventually they will not work.
Anyone who is caring for goats — especially if they are kidding, showing or otherwise exposed to stressors — may eventually have to deal with coccidiosis. Being prepared, knowing what to expect and acting quickly can keep those goats healthy and save lives.
Have you dealt with coccidiosis in goats? Tell us about it!
Cheryl K. Smith is a freelance writer who has raised miniature dairy goats under the herd name Mystic Acres, in the foothills of the Coast Range in Oregon since 1998. She is the author of Goat Health Care (Karmadillo Press, 2009) and Raising Goats for Dummies (Wiley, 2010).
Originally published in Countryside July/August 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.