Enterotoxemia (sometimes referred to as over-eating disease) is caused by a bacteria called Clostridium perfringens. There are two strains called types C and D. They regularly exist in the intestines of all goats. It is only when these bacteria proliferate that it causes a problem for the health of the goat.
The cause of the bacteria proliferation seems to be sudden changes in what the goats eat or the quantity the goats eat. This can happen with large amounts of fresh grass if they aren't used to it. It can also happen if the goats get into a large amount of grain suddenly. It can even happen with kids if they suddenly consume too much milk.
If overeating occurs, the clostridium increases rapidly within the intestines. The bacteria themselves aren't the problem. The problem for the goat occurs when the clostridium bacteria give off a strong toxin that poisons the goat. The toxins damage the intestines and then the organs, ultimately causing death. This condition is called enterotoxemia.
It is important to note that if a goat eats too much food and "bloats" it is usually the toxins and enterotoxemia that ultimately kills the goat.
There are several symptoms of enterotoxemia
If the goat starts extending their head back and over their hips, it can possibly be a sign that the toxins are affecting the brain and death will probably occur shortly within a few hours.
Enterotoxemia can progress quickly and is often fatal. There may often be no signs and an animal can be found dead. If you suddenly find a dead goat there is a good possibility that enterotoxemia was the ultimate cause of death. Treatment is often not successful once the toxins are releasing and producing symptoms. As always, your best way to stop enterotoxemia deaths is prevention.
Enterotoxemia can be avoided with proper herd management. There are several steps you can take to prevent this deadly condition.
Every feed change should proceed slowly and over time. This is one of the reasons I don't feed my goats garden food and waste even though they are safe for the goats to eat.
Remember that you aren't really feeding the goat. You are feeding the bacteria in the goat's rumen which digests the food. If you slowly introduce changes, these bacteria will adjust so that it makes it harder for the clostridium bacteria to proliferate.
Be careful in the spring when moving the goats onto pasture. At Goat Milk Stuff, we follow this general rule of thumb with putting first the adult goats (and then the kids) onto pasture.
Day 1: 10 minutes
Day 2: 20 minutes
Day 3: 30 minutes
Day 4: 1 hour
Day 5: 2 hours
Day 6: 4 hours
Day 7: As much as they want
We also feed them fresh hay (so they're excited about it), before letting them onto pasture.
Keep any animal feed (goats, chickens, cat, dog foods) behind closed doors. At Goat Milk Stuff, we built our storage rooms so that the doors open INTO the goat area and not INTO the feed storage room. It is harder for goats who escape to pull on doors. It is much easier for them to push the doors open.
If your goats do accidentally get into grain or other foods, do not hope that everything will be ok. I would suggest keeping CD/T antitoxin on hand and treating with it even before seeing any symptoms.
This is an important prevention for the proliferation of the clostridium bacteria and the resulting potential production of toxins.
Vaccinate does pre-breeding and pre-kidding so they get enough antibodies in their colostrum. Be sure to remember to vaccinate your bucks, and follow a good vaccination schedule for kids.
CD/T toxoid is the vaccine form and provides long-term immunity and prevention. CD/T antitoxin has a strong, short-term, immediate effect and provides 7-10 days of treatment.
The clostridium bacteria grow explosively after consuming foods high in starch (grain), sugar, or protein (milk) in quantities that the animal is not used to. If you are bottle raising your goat kids, feed as many times as you can consistently do.
As your herd grows, make sure that every goat has access to food relatively equally and that none are getting too much and none are getting too little. Be sure to have enough feeding stations so that all goats can have access to adequate amounts of food.
Most goat owners worry about the "bossy" goats that get more than their share of the food. But those goats that get too little can then get into trouble if they suddenly have access to what would otherwise be considered a normal amount of food.
As mentioned before, enough feeding stations and free-choice hay and alfalfa pellets can really help in this situation.
If the goat is still alive and suffering, I would repeat the antitoxin dosage every 2-4 hours. Antitoxin won't hurt if given too much and giving high dosages may save the goat's life. My understanding is that the goat should be noticeably better or die within 8 hours.
Just remember that enterotoxemia is a deadly disease that is better dealt with through prevention, rather than treatment.
Disclaimer: This information is provided as an example of how we personally raise goats at Goat Milk Stuff. We are not veterinarians and any information on the GMS website should not be taken as veterinary advice. Please seek the advice of a professional vet before making any changes to your herd management or individual treatment of your goat.
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