Abscesses and CL in Goats

Abscesses and CL in goats featured image

Caseous Lymphadenitis, usually called CL, is the most common cause of skin abscesses. CL is highly contagious because it can infect goats through unbroken skin. CL is unique in that it most commonly affects lymph nodes in the neck. The only way to know if a goat has CL is to have a vet aspirate the contents of the swollen area and culture it to see if it is positive for CL. It is a good idea to isolate a goat with an abscess. If the abscess bursts, the pus that drains from the wound will be highly contagious if it is CL. Once a goat is diagnosed with CL, it is positive forever, and it could have internal abscesses. A blood test for CL is also available.

CL Vaccine

Although a vaccine is available for CL in some countries, it is only used in herds that already have an outbreak of the disease, and it is only given to goats that are not already infected. Once a goat is vaccinated it will test positive, which means that testing becomes a worthless tool in determining which goats are actually infected.

A commercially available vaccine is no longer available for goats in the US. Using the sheep vaccine is not recommended because of adverse reactions — and the fact that it may not even work in goats. If you have a large herd, you may want to look into having a lab formulate a vaccine specifically for your herd. This option is cost prohibitive for smaller herds, as the minimum number of doses is usually several hundred.

For more info about vaccines for your goats, check out this podcast episode.

Injection Abscesses

It is very common for goats to develop an abscess at the site of an injection, whether for medication or vaccination, so it is helpful to make a note of the location of the injection. More than a few goat owners have panicked when finding one of those abscesses, worried that the goat has CL. Injection-site abscesses should not be disturbed, and they will go away within a couple of weeks on their own.

Other causes of abscesses

A salivary cyst is one of the abscesses most commonly confused with CL because it occurs on the head in the same general area as the lymph nodes. Not every swollen spot on a goat is an abscess. It could be something as simple as a bee sting or ant bites.

Swelling around the lips and cheeks may be due to the goat eating thorny bushes or other plants that caused a minor injury to the skin. The loss of a tooth may cause swelling around the mouth.

Goats can also get goiters on the thyroid just like humans who are deficient in iodine, and this will cause swelling in the neck. Bottle jaw, caused by parasites, is another cause of swelling under the jaw.

Most of this article is an excerpt from the second edition of Raising Goats Naturally by Deborah Niemann. It was updated in 2022 to include information about the fact that the CL vaccine is no longer available in the US.

For more info on CL, check out episode 87 – CL in Goats: Caseous Lymphadenitis, on my For the Love of Goats podcast where Dr. Michael Pesato from Mississippi State University is talking about the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of CL.

Click here to visit our Amazon store, which includes a list of things goats need.

50 thoughts on “Abscesses and CL in Goats”

  1. Thanks for the infor, very helpful to know that the rash on my doe’s udder is not CL! i Still don’t know what it is. I’ve tried Chlorhexidine daily for three weeks, a s the vet suggested, and it has helped, but not eradicated it. And ideas from anyone?

    • Diluted iodine, Blue Kote (gentian violet), and tea tree oil diluted with a carrier oil, such as olive oil are all possibilities. If the Clorhexidine has not worked in three weeks, then it is not going to work. Blue Kote stains terribly so that would be my last resort. I’d probably try tea tree oil first. It’s a really good anti-fungal.

  2. I have an adult Nigerian who developed a quarter size cyst, the hair fell off in that are and so we took her to the vet. We suspected CL. The vet lanced the abcess and did a pus test for CL and he too thinks it probably is CL. We have isolated her for the moment. She has 3 kids (3 months old). The rest of the herd is not showing any signs. We have 8 goats in our herd. Do you think we should vaccinate the rest of the herd and then we could keep her or cull her and hope that her kids and the rest of the herd do not get it? We love her and do not want to cull her but I don’t want the rest of my herd exposed.

    • I really hate it when people say that a cyst is CL without lab results. NO one can tell by looking if a cyst is CL or something else. That’s why we have to do labs. You didn’t say where the cyst is, but location could rule out CL in some cases. If the labs come back as positive for CL, then I’d cull her and do blood tests on everyone else to see if they have CL. It’s possible that one of them is a carrier and gave it to her, especially if you’ve had her for a few years. She got it from someone. The CL vaccine will cause your entire herd to test positive for CL, so I wouldn’t do it, but I want to have a disease-free herd. I’d test every six months and cull all of the positive CL goats and repeat that until I had no more testing positive for a year. I’d probably wait six months to do the first test, especially if she was a new goat and may have had CL when you bought her. I know WADDL in Washington State has a CL blood test. You could call them and ask their pathologist for his or her recommendations on testing and getting a CL-free herd after having one test positive.

    • Miriam,
      I just read where you had a goat with an abscess that the hair fell off of in 2019. I have the same type of thing on my Nigerians neck. What did you determine with your goat? Hopefully, it was not CL.

      • It really doesn’t matter whether or not her goat had CL. You need to get your goat tested to know for sure.

          • There is no substitute for getting a culture and sending it in to a lab. I personally drive two hours to go to the university vet hospital. Many people don’t have a goat vet close to them. If you truly cannot get your goat to a vet, then you will have to learn to do diagnostics yourself and send them to a lab. WADDL and Michigan State are two labs that I have used for blood tests and tissue samples when the goat didn’t need to see a vet, but I needed an answer. I also send in random livers to test for copper levels.

  3. I have a question if you have had a closed herd where do you pick it up from and how do we know the differences. I saw a map of a goat head with tell tale places
    of which is what so I struggle with what my one doe really has. Do I dare breed her back to my buck this year? Is she going to survive this? Or is this all just a wait and see thing? Ive heard that a vet doesn’t even want to mess with them for the fear of. More Articles to read I guess. Any and all information is very welcome.

    • If you truly have a closed herd, it is close to impossible for one of your goats to get CL. It would have to be from someone bringing it onto your farm on equipment, shoes, etc. However, you didn’t say how long you’ve had goats. So if you just bought her last year, and now she has an abscess, it could be that she had it when you bought her, even though she didn’t have an abscess at the time.

      CL is an ugly disease, but not usually deadly. I have never heard of a vet who was unwilling to aspirate an abscess. They wear gloves. They use sterile technique. Orf (sore mouth) is much scarier as that is contagious to humans. If your vet refuses to test, I’d find a new vet.

    • A closed heard doesn’t mean their are not carriers of CL. Sheep or goats can carry the disease for years without any noticeable or external cysts. They can pass on the disease to their kids/lambs then you may notice an outbreak. As far blood testing, I believe they are looking for antibodies and give a range for being more or less likely positive or negative.

      • Of course, there are never any guarantees, but as I said in my response, it depends on how long you’ve had a goat as far as how confident you can be that they are CL-free. I would not even consider a herd “closed” until it had no new introductions for at least three years, but the longer the better. If a goat has it, they and/or their kids will show symptoms at some point.

        The ELISA test looks for antibodies in the blood, which is why vaccinated animals will come up positive. However, false negatives are possible, which is why in another answer I suggested testing every six months in that situation. However, a culture of an abscess is highly accurate, which is why you should have an abscess cultured to get a definitive diagnosis. The blood test is really just used on a whole herd basis. It has not been shown to be terribly reliable in figuring out if individual animals are infected. If it exists in a herd, some of the animals should test positive, and then you know you have a problem.

  4. I have a buck that has a pretty good size knot on his neck. I just had my herd tested in April and it was negative for CL. This bump was not there at that time and has just shown up. I do have a vet appointment in a couple days, but I am scared that this could still be CL. Is it possible that he could have gotten it this fast? Or can I feel pretty good about it being something else?

    • It’s highly unlikely that he would get CL if you have a closed herd and have not brought in any new goats, assuming he’s been on your farm for at least a couple of years or was born there. If he hasn’t been exposed to it, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over this, especially since they all tested negative two months ago. I’d assume it was something else until lab work showed otherwise.

      • Cl can actually be carried by birds,closed herds are no longer a guarantee that your herd will remain cl free.
        Test and cull is what we will do
        Sad but true
        Latest research is kinda worrisome

        • CL can also be on the bottom of your shoes. Just so no one is confused by this — birds are not carriers of CL any more than your shoes are or the tires on your car. Yes, they can bring the disease onto your property, but they have to be exposed to it first. So, they’d have to have been at a farm with goats that have CL, just as you would have to walk through a pasture with CL-infected goats or sheep to get pus on your shoes. Some people even worry about walking through the local feed store and don’t wear their farm shoes into town for that reason.

          • I believe it is false and misleading to say ” vaccine is only used in herds that have they disease.” We vaccinate because we are not a closed herd, we go to fairs and open shows, where the likelyhood the disease is on the grounds, we use it as a prevention.

          • You’re the first person I’ve “met” who has used it like this. It is not recommended because now you can’t prove that you have a CL-free herd because all of your goats will test positive for the disease.

  5. I just picked up a couple of packgoats and tried to give them the pat down before I loaded them up. One was a little more skittish and of course that one has 4 lumps the size of a pea all on the passenger side of his neck in a line. They are inbetween the head and shoulder and right where his wind pipe and neck muscle meet.
    I am going to get him tested but is there any other things that can cause this? No hair has fallen off yet.

    • Any type of injury can cause an abscess if it gets infected. I haven’t heard of CL causing a line of pea-sized lumps. CL abscesses are usually larger. Since it’s four of them in a line, I wonder if something could have stabbed him four times in a row?

  6. We unfortunately believe our goats have this as well. We have two goats with current abscesses. What will happen to them? Will they die? If our herd has it what is the danger in allowing them to all live together?

    • You need to have them tested because this is a potentially zoonotic disease, meaning that people can get it. You should not consume milk from does that have it. The disease is highly contagious, and if you leave diseased goats in your herd, it will spread to your other goats. Once goats have this disease, they have it for life, and if they get internal abscesses at some point, that could make them very sick and possibly waste away.

    • I’m not sure why you shared that particular study as it simply says that the result did not vary much between treatment groups, and unfortunately they did not even have a control group to compare “nothing.” According to the latest version of the veterinary text Diseases of the Goat by Matthews, he says that long-term studies have not shown any benefit to antibiotic therapy for CL. This is not to say that an individual vet won’t use it, even though studies have not shown any benefit.

      Matthews also says that formalin is not legal to use in food-producing animals, and it is a known carcinogen, so you probably don’t want to use it in goats.

  7. I haha very a doeling that at 4 months old had a lump come up on her side right behind her front leg. I watched it and wondered if it was CL , but it went away. I’m pretty sure it was from the bigger girls bumping her. I saw them do it many times. Praise God that’s all it was.
    I had my first goats tested and all that has been new in the pasture were a couple bucks who only stayed a couple months then we’re sold.

  8. I just got the test results back today from a doe that was pregnant at the time of testing. it took 2 weeks to get the test results back. She kidded 4 days ago…her results are positive for CL. Is it a for sure deal that her babies will have CL now since they are nursing off of the Mom? I know I have to put the Mom down, Should I get the babies tested 1st? or should I just put them down also?

    • According to the third edition of Sheep, Goat, and Cervid Medicine, which was just published last year, milk and colostrum transmission are not a problem, but kids should be removed from the doe to avoid transmission through an abscess that bursts and drains. Transmission during pregnancy has not been reported. So, sounds like your kids may be fine as long as there is nothing in their pen that could have exposed them to the disease. Hopefully you have not used tattoo pliers or hoof trimmers or anything else on the infected doe. If you did, you should disinfect them.

  9. 6/10 goats tested positive. Should I isolate the other 4?
    I plan cull the positive ones, but
    some of them are pregnant, due in 30-45 days. Should I cull them now or wait until they kid?
    If waiting, do I wait until they’re weaned or cull immediately after birth and bottle raise?
    How long do I wait until I first test the kids?
    If waiting until weaned, is the milk of the infected goat safe for human consumption?
    Is the meat of the culled goat safe for human consumption?
    How do I disinfect the farmyard once all the positive goats are culled?
    How often do I test the remaining goats until to confirm they’re still negative?
    At what point can I consider the herd disease free? Or in order to do so, do I need to cull all that have been potentially exposed and just start over?

    Sorry for all the questions and TIA if you answer. Im heartbroken by this, and very frustrated since I had all the goats tested (negative) before I brought them into the herd.

    • Before you even think about culling — If all of your goats tested negative before purchase, I would call the lab and/or your vet to talk about the possibility of false positive results, especially if this was just a routine whole-herd blood test, and no one has any abscesses and never has had any abscesses. You have to ask yourself how they could have all gotten exposed, especially if they came from different herds originally. Note that if the goats have been vaccinated for CL, they will test positive.

      If you have had abscesses test positive for CL, that’s another story. Goats get infected through the exudate (pus) when an abscess bursts, so if you’ve had that happen, then your whole herd is likely infected, and there is no way to sanitize a pasture or barn.

      To respond to all of your other questions would take about a half hour conversation because it’s complicated, and I’m not completely sure if your goats are even positive at this point.

  10. If one goat has CL in a heard of 11 is it likely ALL have it ?? Abscess is present but has not burst – hair just began to fall off – there are concerns that internal abscess may be present due to coughing …Any advice ?

    • First things first …. has the abscess been tested? It may not be CL. And the cough could be due to something else entirely. Since you’re asking this question, it sounds like you haven’t seen a vet. Please get this tested before you take any other action.

  11. I purchased a buckling (approx 4 months old) He developed two lumps on his neck. I was worried about CL. I took him to a vet who poked a hole in them. The vet said they did not feel like CL so he put a needle in it. Clear fluid drained out of both. The lumps have grown back. Should I still be worried about CL, does CL have a “clear fluid” stage? thx so much.

    • The vet textbooks show a cheesey looking exudate. I have never heard anyone say that it is ever clear. Where exactly are they? Are they over his lymph nodes just under his jawbone — or are they ON his jawbone? Some goats get salivary cysts. They are basically on the cheeks.

    • If it is on the outside of her jaw, it could be a tooth abscess or a salivary gland cyst. If it is UNDER the jaw from the hinge to the chin, that could be bottle jaw, which is a symptom of parasites, and if it under the jaw on the lymph node, that could be a CL abscess. Lots of possibilities, and the only way to know is to have it cultured — unless it is bottle jaw. Check the eyelids and see if they are pale, if it sounds more like bottle jaw.

  12. Best part for me was finding out it is common for injection sites to abscess. I use alcohol to clean site before injection and it still happens. Nice to know it ‘s not me!!!!

  13. I have a kid that developed or was born with a lump the size of a pea which has grown, quadrupled or more in size in three months. It’s located on the side of her neck/jaw.
    Can an animal be born with CL or contract it in her first week of life?
    Thank you

    • That does not sound like CL. An abscess would have burst long ago rather than just continuing to grow.

      That sounds like the location and size of a wattle at birth. Are you sure it’s not a wattle?

      If it’s in the middle of the throat, that could be a goiter, which would indicate an iodine deficiency.

      • Thank you for your respone Deborah.
        The cyst is located on one of her wattles or sitting next to the top of the wattle, where the wattle joins the neck. It really is a ball the size of a walnut. Her mum doesn’t have this, however, I do have 2 other goats with a small cyst located in the same area.
        Do CL abscess burst fairly quickly after developing?

        • There is such a thing as a wattle cyst. You didn’t describe the cysts on the other goats, when they got them, etc, so I can’t comment on them at all. If you want to know for sure, you need to have them examined by a vet. If they suspect CL, they should do a culture to confirm.

    • I’m sorry to hear that you are in this situation. You can talk to your vet about what options they have available. When we are butchering goats, we follow the instructions given in a livestock butchering book that I read 20 years ago, which was written by a vet and says to shoot the animal at the middle of an imaginary X that is drawn between their eyes and ears, and that does seem to work very quickly.

    • You’re welcome! And if you have more questions about CL, we will have a podcast episode on it next week, which will includes a LOT more information.

  14. I want to make sure I do the right thing. 18 month old due any day now doe. I had blood work done to cross my T and dot my I. Has never had an abscess came back positive for CL. Info out there is confusing. Can she lick her babies clean and nurse them so long as she has no abscesses? And her environment is clean of the bacteria? I want to give the kids the best chance of not getting it. Thanks for your time and help.

    • Unfortunately there is not a super easy answer to your question. Here is a link to our podcast episode with Dr. Pesato where we talk about CL –https://thriftyhomesteader.com/cl-in-goats/


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