I recently ran across an article from a well-known and widely read magazine on meat goats. While the overall article was well worth reading and had many great advice tips, one section concerning diarrhea (scours) concernced me. My first concern was that the article was misleading on a number of factors and that for new or inexperienced goat owners with no prior knowledge the first signs of diarrhea can have you running for supplements and/or medications. I found myself in this situation only 30 days after purchasing my first goats. Please don’t (over)treat your goats without first calmly assessing the situation. The section read as follows:

“What is the best way to save a goat that has diarrhea? First of all determine if the
problem came from overeating grain or if it actually is sick from something worse.
Almost all diarrhea comes from a heavy load of worms. Coccidia may have set in. The
first mission of a good herd health manager, is to prevent the worms in the first place,
however the second mission is to save the goat. Most folks run for the de-wormer. We
run for the Spectam Scour Halt (labeled for pigs) and Corid. The goat probably already
is poor condition. De-wormer makes it more difficult for the goat to recover. Save the
goat first. Mix 4 cc’s of Corid and 4 cc’s of Spectam Scour Halt. Drench (orally) the
100+ pound goat with this mixture. By the end of the day the goat will be eating hay, and
the rear end should be dry the next day! We have saved many goats with this method. A
day or two later, attack the fire (the worms) that caused the smoke (the diarrhea) with a
strong dose of de-wormer. You might consider de-worming the rest of your goats at this
point! Pull that lower eye lid down. It should be red like yours. Pink is a problem and
white is a dead goat that is still standing. An immediate blood transfusion from a healthy
goat may save a very weak, heavy worm infested goat, long enough for you to get some
de-wormer into it.”

As stated previously, there is a lot of good information here but I felt it was necessary to clarify a few possibly misleading statements.

“First of all determine if the problem came from overeating grain or if it actually is sick from something worse.”

Overeating of grain can be one cause of diarrhea, but by no means is it the only cause. This seems to depict diarrhea as being caused from only two reasons. I experience mild forms of diarreha in some of my goats from time to time simply due to diet changes (during pasture rotation and feeding based on seasonal changes or BCS scores). The diarrhea goes away in a matter of 24-48 hours however. Persistent diarrhea is cause for further analysis as it may indicate something more serious.

“Almost all diarrhea comes from a heavy load of worms.”

The statement that almost all diarreha comes from a heavy load of worms is misleading in my opinion. Diarrhea is a symptom of another problem, worms being only one of many. Diarrhea is in fact the body’s way of ridding unwanted (unhealthy) things and it is not always necessary to run for the bottle of scour medication. If anything goats need more electrolytes to keep the body strong and hydrated more than scour medicines.

“We run for the Spectam Scour Halt (labeled for pigs) and Corid.”

The author’s relationship with his/her veterinarian is not mentioned but a word of caution for those who may not be aware: The use of drugs categorized as “extra-label” (those not made specifically for use in goats) is legal only if prescribed by your veterinarian in the context of a valid client-patient relationship (the vet can’t just give you a prescription without inspecting your herd).

“Pull that lower eye lid down. It should be red like yours. Pink is a problem and white is a dead goat that is still standing”

Good advice here, but this might have you identifying the symptom of a different problem other than diarrhea. If your goat’s lower eyelid (not the upper eyelid) color is white, I really feel for your goat…it’s pretty much in a dire state of emergency. Chances are you should have noticed other problems long before this point unless it was unattended in pastures for a time. Pink however, does not necessarily mean that there is a problem requiring medication. There are several shades of red/pink and most do not warrant treatment unless conditions continue to deteriorate. Good management practices should have you in the habit of periodic inspections and results to analyze (we try to conduct ours monthly). If the goat(s) has had problems with worms in the past it is usually a mark in the plus column for a possible reason why they are experiencing diarrhea. That being said, generally speaking the worms that cause diarrhea are not the blood feeding worms associated with changes in eyelid color.

Unless your records and analysis indicate a possible need for medication, the first step should be to ensure your goat(s) has access the the essentials; clean water, clean food and a clean environment. If you decide to use medication please be aware that over time the resistance to medications will require you to invest more time and money in finding and purchasing new medications. As a meat goat producer this would  really cut into my profit margin – one that can be small to begin with (I am not suggesting however that you deny proper treatment to save money). The goats own immune system will be weakened as well by not being allowed to fight its own battles.

Reflecting on the information presented above, I feel it is important to take a three-phased approach to diarrhea:

1. Determine if the goats feeding patterns have changed recently prior to the onset of diarrhea. Changes in feeding patterns can cause short-term diarrhea.

  • Have they changed what they are eating?
  • Have they changed how much they are eating?

(If the answer is yes to either or both of these monitor and treat with electrolytes if necessary – deny all grain supplements if overeating is suspected)

2. Is this a young goat or an adult goat? Young goats are much more susceptible to diarrhea than adults. Too much milk, outside temperature and even how often they feed can have an effect on the little ones rumen and small intestine. Extra care and attention should be given to young kids. Diarrhea in kids is much more serious than in adults generally speaking.

3. What color is the diarrhea?

  • Green, Bright Green – watery to paste-like
    • Indicates change in diet, feed scours (monitor, give electrolytes if necessary)
  • Dark – paste-like with bubbles and foul smell (18 months or older only)
    • Possibly Johnes Disease
  • Black, Yellow to Green, Grey – tar-like, watery, foul smell, bloody
    • Possibly Salmonellosis (check for presence of fever, give electrolytes –  treat with Penicillin, 1mL per 100lbs, SQ)
  • Dark – watery, foamy, paste-like, bloody, foul smell (kids from 4 weeks to 5 months)
    • Possibly Coccidiosis

There are many varying reasons why goats may get diarrhea. The important thing to remember is to assess the situation and not overreact. Some causes are reason for alarm (disease indicators) and should be met aggressivly to protect the goat, but some are merely the body’s way of ridding unwanted things or simply a reaction to a change in diet.

If you reach for anything first, it should be some sort of electrolyte solution. A goats biological makeup is for retaining water which can be demonstrated by the small, compact, and for all intents and purposes “efficient” fecal droppings. Diarrhea causes them to lose a lot more water than their bodies are supposed to deal with. There are many electrolyte solutions made specifically for livestock and/or goats but in a pinch Gatorade or Pedialyte will work just as well. If you suspect the diarrhea to be a symptom of a disease, consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and prescription for the correct medications. Do not try and self diagnose your goat and pump it full of medications it did not need.