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.
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.
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.
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