Dr. Dave Sparks

Dr. Dave Sparks


Treatment for anemia should began ASAPRoundworms can sneak up on you! Most experienced goat producers have had a time when they realized that the worms were winning.Worms are the No. 1 cause of death in goats because Haemonchus contortus, alias the Barberpole worm, feeds on blood from the stomach wall.

Other roundworms in other host species experience a loss of condition due to nutritional loss when their worms feed on protein and mucous in the digestive tract, but the Barberpole worm kills his host!

Each worm consumes a few drops of blood per day, but when there are thousands of worms present this adds up to a serious loss of blood over time, and, ultimately, death due to anemia and the lack of the ability to transport oxygen.

When you or I donate blood, the technicians At the blood bank warn us not to give blood again for 6 to 8 weeks to allow our body to rebuild and replace the blood lost. Our poor goats, however, are required to continue to give daily until they can no longer Support life. The Barberpole worm gets its name from the red and white spiral stripes seen through the transparent cuticle covering his body. These intertwining stripes are the red, blood filled digestive tract and the white, egg-filled reproductive tract. This worm truly exists to eat blood and lay eggs.

Often the first sign that your goat is having a crisis comes when it slowly trails the rest of the herd or stops often to rest and get its breath. Examination will reveal that the body temperature is normal but the mucous membranes, such as the inside of the eyelids, are very pale to white in color. These tissues normally have a bright pink or red coloration from blood moving through the capillaries in the translucent membranes. In anemia, however, this color is lost, along with most of the oxygen-carrying capacity of the red blood cells.

If you find a pale Color to the membranes, you should treat the goat for parasitism and anemia. If the color of the membranes is white you need to treat immediately but quietly to have a chance to foil the grim reaper. Treatment consists of eliminating or minimizing the infestation, and then countering the anemia.

The first consideration should be to kill the parasites present in the stomach so that your goat can quit donating every day. Although there are several choices for dewormers, only two are labeled for use in goats: fenbendazole (Safe Guard) and rumatel (Positive Pellets). All others must be prescribed by a veterinarian for use in goats, even when purchased over-the-counter.

Additionally, many dewormers have been used excessively or incorrectly until they are no longer effective in goats on many farms. Make sure that the dewormer you use is effective on your farm by running, or having your veterinarian run, a fecal egg count test before and 7 to 10 days after you deworm a goat with a moderate infestation. If the drug is effective it will reduce the fecal egg count by 95% or more. If it doesn’t achieve this goal, select and test another drug for use in your herd. Once you have identified a dewormer that is effective in your herd, use it only on the goats that are suffering from anemia, and only when they need it.

When you have treated the underlying cause of the problem, in this case the parasite load, treatment shifts to helping the goat recover by avoiding stress and encouraging the building of new red blood cells to replace those that have been lost. Hemoglobin is the compound in red blood cells that is responsible for the red color and is also the component of the cell that carries the oxygen to all Parts of the body. Hemoglobin makes up about 97% of the dry material in a red blood cell and is composed largely of protein, iron and copper.

Additionally, B vitamins, especially B12 or cyanocobalamine, are required for the body to manufacture hemoglobin from its component parts. The protein must come from the daily ration, so adequate dietary protein is vital in recovery from anemia because the body can’t build blood cells if the building blocks are not provided. There are several good sources for the vitamins, iron and copper required. Some producers use Geritol and molasses as a dietary supplement. The Geritol provides the vitamins and minerals while the molasses makes the combination more palatable for livestock.

Perhaps a better and more economical choice would be one of the many conditioners or dietary supplements sold at your local farm store for livestock. Some of the products sold as hemotinics or blood builders for performance Horses are particularly good for recovering anemic goats. Since these are dietary supplements and not pharmaceuticals, the dosage is not critical. When you compare products, look for one that provides high levels of B12, iron and copper. Note that this discussion is in regards to parasitized goats. Beware of high levels of supplemental copper in sheep.

The best way to avoid death loss due to parasitism is to catch and treat parasite induced anemia before it becomes critical. Unfortunately, it is not a perfect world and some goats will go undiagnosed until they are in jeopardy. When this happens, remember to treat the underlying cause, reduce stress and exertion, and provide the building blocks required to slowly replace the lost red cells.

(Dave Sparks, DVM, is the Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Area Extension Food-Animal Quality and Health Specialist. He can be contacted at