Abortions and Storms

Meat Goat Herd Health

Common Diseases

Dr. Bruce Olcott and Dr. Lionel Dawson

Louisiana State University and Oklahoma State University

Introduction

While goats are normally very healthy animals, they can succumb to disease just like other domestic

livestock species. Diseases can be very serious and result in lost productivity, reduced reproduction, or even

death. Some diseases are contagious and can spread quickly throughout a herd. Other diseases have the

potential to be zoonotic, meaning they can be passed to humans. It is essential for goat producers to have basic

knowledge of the diseases most likely to affect their animals. This knowledge should include how a disease

is transmitted, its signs and symptoms, how it can be treated and, most importantly, how it can be prevented

and controlled. While basic knowledge of diseases will assist a producer, a veterinarian is the correct person

to provide proper diagnosis and to prescribe appropriate drugs and treatment regimes.

Reproductive Disease: Infectious Abortions

General

Of all the disease problems which can affect a herd of goats, those causing abortion and reproductive

failure are always the most costly. Estimates for expected pregnancy wastage in goats are in the range of

5 to 8% per year and in abortion epidemics could reach greater than 80%. Abortions can be due to many

factors including malnutrition, temperature, genetics, hormones, stress, and trauma. However, abortions due

to diseases that may spread throughout the herd have the potential to be the most devastating.

When faced with an animal which aborts, it is imperative that appropriate procedures are followed if a

diagnosis is to be made. Record the animal number, date, and any other important information about the abortion.

Four samples (clearly labeled with animal number and date) always suggested to be taken include:

Fetus – fresh, chilled if delivery to a diagnostic lab is within 2 days, otherwise freeze.

Placenta – as above.

Blood collected at the time of abortion – if possible, allow blood to clot and collect the serum (pale

yellow fluid that rises above the clot) and freeze.

Blood collected 2 to 4 weeks after the abortion – as above.

It is important to remember that many of the diseases causing abortion in goats are zoonotic diseases

and can be transmitted to humans. Gloves should always be worn when collecting samples from the

abortion and hands should be cleaned carefully after handling potentially infectious material. Pregnant

women should not assist with kidding.

In general, it is safest to assume that all abortions are caused by contagious organisms. Always isolate

the doe and dispose of all aborted material (fetus, placenta, and fluids) by burning or burying. Contact a

veterinarian to determine a course of action and potential treatment programs.

Chlamydiosis

Chlamydia is a common cause of infectious abortion in goats. In chronically infected herds almost 50%

of abortions are the result of infection with these bacteria (Chlamydia psittaci). The birth of weak kids may

also be associated with Chlamydia. Chlamydia can cause conjunctivitis (pink eye), and polyarthritis (arthri-

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tis in multiple joints), though the exact strains of the Chlamydia bacteria causing these diseases differ from

those causing abortion. Goats become infected orally from bacteria shed in the feces and uterine discharges

of infected goats.

Signs and symptoms

A history of late term abortions, stillbirths, and birth of weak kids is always suggestive of Chlamydiosis.

The aborted fetus may be fresh or decomposed in appearance. The time from infection to abortion may

vary. Female kids infected with the organism at birth may abort in their first pregnancy. Does exposed to the

bacteria in the first half of gestation may abort in the last trimester of that pregnancy. Does exposed in the

last half of gestation usually abort in the subsequent pregnancy. Once abortion has occurred, does appear to

have immunity as affected animals seldom abort more than once due to Chlamydiosis.

Treatment, prevention, and control

Remove aborting does from the herd for at least 3 weeks. Placentas and fetuses should be removed and

burned or buried. To minimize exposure, ensure that all feed and water sources are protected from fecal

contamination. Treating all does in an abortion outbreak with tetracycline may reduce additional abortions.

Consult your veterinarian for drugs, dosage, and withdrawal information. There is a vaccine approved for

sheep available as a single antigen or in combination with Campylobacter. Consult your veterinarian for

potential use in goats.

Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan parasite that can infect goats and is second in importance only to

Chlamydia as a major cause of infectious abortion. Cats are the primary host for toxoplasmosis, becoming

infected by eating infected rats and mice. The parasite matures in the intestine of the cat and infective eggs

or oocytes are passed in the feces which can infect goats and other animals if consumed. Other than cat

feces, the only source of infection for does is by consuming the infected placenta or birth fluids from aborting

does. Younger cats are more of a threat to spread the disease than older cats. Cats develop immunity as

they mature and persons who want cats should use neutered adult males as they are less likely to be a source

of infection.

Toxoplasma can be transmitted to humans via drinking milk from infected does and from handling

aborted material. Pregnant women should not assist with kidding or handle aborted material.

Signs and symptoms

Does infected early in pregnancy may reabsorb the fetus or abort a mummified fetus. Infections later

in gestation can result in abortion and stillbirth. Diagnosis is usually made based on the appearance of the

placenta. White to yellow focal “rice grain” lesions are typically found on the cotyledons. Another common

finding is brain abnormalities in stillborn or weak kids.

Treatment, prevention, and control

Remove does which abort from the herd for a minimum of 4 weeks. Bury or burn all aborted material.

During gestation, all cats should be kept away from pregnant does. Remove all feed which may have been

contaminated with cat feces and prevent cats from defecating in feeders, on hay bales, etc. There are no

vaccines available in the U.S. for toxoplasmosis. Feeding monensin throughout pregnancy has been shown

to have some protective effect (Rumensin 60 made by Elanco fed at 20 grams monensin per ton of feed).

Properly cook all goat meat and pasteurize all goat milk to be consumed, particularly that fed to infants.

Pregnant women should be careful when handling goats. Wear protective gloves when handling fetus and

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Q-fever

Q-fever is a bacterial infection (Coxiella burnetti) that causes fetal resorption, stillbirths, and late term

abortions often with retained placentas. It is transmitted through the air and inhaled or is consumed via

infected abortion material, urine, or grazing contaminated pastures. Tick bites may also be a source of

transmission. Q-fever’s primary significance is its zoonotic potential.

Signs and symptoms

Q-fever infects cattle, goats, sheep, and wildlife. Most infected goats will be carriers of the disease without

showing any signs. Carrier animals will shed the disease in milk and at parturition. Signs include stillbirths

and late term abortion. Some aborted goats will have a retained placenta.

Treatment, prevention, and control

Tetracycline is the drug of choice and may be used under veterinary supervision. The aborted placenta,

fetus, and birth fluids should be buried or burned. Colostrum and milk also have high levels of organisms.

There is currently no effective vaccine available. The organism is resistant to drying which means it aerosolizes

and can be inhaled. This is a zoonotic disease meaning it can be contracted by humans so a mask should

be worn when scraping manure or sweeping the area. Pasteurize all milk before drinking.

Brucellosis

Brucellosis is a bacterial disease of mammals that can affect goats causing abortions in does and inflammation

of the testicles in bucks. While brucellosis in goats is usually caused by Brucella melitensis, they can

also become infected with Brucella abortus which is the brucella of cattle. Brucella melitensis is not found in

the United States at present; however, it is present in Mexico. Brucella abortus is rare in the United States. If

brucella enters a herd there is usually an abortion “storm.” Brucellosis is an important zoonotic disease and

is called “Malta fever” in humans. It is characterized by recurrent flu-like symptoms and high fever.

Signs and symptoms

Abortion in late pregnancy, stillbirths, and birth of weak, infected kids are all possible signs. Does may

show fever, lameness, and sometimes nervous system signs.

Treatment, prevention, and control

There is no effective treatment and infected animals should be slaughtered. Burn or bury all aborted

materials. Consult your veterinarian if brucellosis is suspected. Any brucellosis cases must be reported to

state veterinarians. Additions to the herd can be tested for presence of the disease organism. This disease is

spread to humans by direct contact or by drinking unpasteurized milk or consuming products made from

infected milk. Wear protective clothing when assisting with birthing problems or abortions. Do not drink

or use raw milk.

Other abortion-causing diseases

Campylobacter (vibriosis) and Leptospirosis are two other diseases that can cause late-term abortions;

however, these diseases are rarely seen in goats. Campylobacter is spread orally via feces and the aborted

fetus and placenta of infected animals. A common sign is a bloody, pus-like vaginal discharge before or

after abortion. Leptospira is usually transmitted by the urine of infected animals that can be goats but more

commonly are rodents. Ensure that feed and water sources are not contaminated with feces or urine. Control

rodents and other animals that may be vectors for these diseases. Listeriosis, caused by Listeria monocytogenes

can cause mid- to late-term abortions. It can also cause “Circling Disease” and is discussed later in this

chapter. For these abortion diseases, consult a veterinarian for treatment regimes and possible vaccination

protocols if deemed necessary.

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