It was not until around 2015 that I ever heard anyone talk about constipation in goats. I suddenly started seeing a lot of posts on Facebook about goats with constipation. I had never had a constipated goat in my herd since starting in 2002. Until recently, I had never even heard of a constipated goat.
I started out my goat-raising education in 2002 in Yahoo groups. I belonged to four goat groups back then, and I don’t recall anyone ever talking about this topic. Each group had a few hundred active members, many of whom posted questions and comments daily. Just to be sure my memory was not failing me when I first wrote this article in 2017, I decided to go back to those groups to see if I had somehow missed all of the conversations about constipated goats.
In one group, there was only one post that mentioned goat constipation in the 14 years that the group was active. A woman posted about how her assumption that her wether was constipated ended with having to euthanize him for urinary calculi. She wanted to warn other members that if you ever see a male goat straining, you should first seek treatment for urinary calculi, which can kill a goat within hours.
Another group that was active for 18 years only had a couple of posts about goat constipation, mostly new people wondering how they’d know if they had a kid that was constipated. They were usually advised not to worry about it. When one person asked about an adult doe being constipated, she was advised to add wheat germ to her feed.
A group that was active for 10 years had one cross-posted question that was the same as in another group. And one group never had a question about constipation in 12 years.
When searching various Facebook goat groups, there are some where constipation is discussed at least weekly. In others, it is mentioned once a year or less. So, why are there so many posts lately about this “problem,” which really is not a problem?
I think it’s the goat owner’s version of med school syndrome — basically medical school students start to think that they are suffering from the diseases that they are studying. Yes, it’s a real thing. The more people talk about constipation in some of the groups, the more other owners think their goats have it. I saw the same thing in a chicken group with egg binding a few years ago. Far too many chicken owners were sticking their fingers into chickens’ vents trying to find eggs in perfectly healthy chickens. It was very disturbing.
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Is constipation a common problem in newborn baby goats?
Unfortunately a few years ago, a popular goat website published an article about constipation in newborns, calling it a “common” problem that can kill kids quickly, which is not backed up by any credible source. This post is quoted frequently in some groups.
If I were completely new to goats and read that article, I might be a little paranoid about my kids’ pooping, but after having 725 kids here, and without a single case of constipation, I’d say it is not a problem in newborns. Even if I had one tomorrow, that would mean it happened in 0.02% of kids. Unfortunately, that post mentioned no research or even anything in the veterinary literature.
It says that symptoms of constipation in a kid are a big, firm belly, not wanting a bottle, and standing hunched up with tail down. Those symptoms do not spell out a conclusive diagnosis of constipation or anything in particular.
“Hunched up with tail down” is the classic posture that means a kid is unhappy, starving, and in pain, or is simply cold, according to veterinary texts and my own personal observations. In fact, every cold kid will stand with their back hunched up. We see this all winter long in Illinois.
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In Diseases of the Goat, Matthews says that a distended belly in a kid may be due to “prematurity, congenital abnormalities, alimentary tract defect, kidney defect, heart defect, high alimentary tract obstruction, pyloric obstruction, abomasal obstruction.”
In older kids, a distended belly can be due to “abomasal bloat, ruminal bloat, mesenteric torsion, inadequate nutrition, and gastrointestinal parasitism.” An enema, which is the suggested remedy on that site, won’t help any of those problems and would simply make a sick kid feel worse.
What causes constipation in goats?
According to Goat Medicine, second edition, by Smith and Sherman, the reasons for constipation in goats, in general, are intestinal blockage, pregnancy toxemia, coccidiosis, poisoning, liver damage, dehydration, or lack of fiber in the diet.
In other words, it is usually caused by a serious medical problem that needs attention — or by a diet that needs to be corrected. Nothing in this list will be fixed by an enema. The 800+ page veterinary text does not mention constipation in newborns at all.
According to the newly released fourth edition of Diseases of the Goat by John Matthews, constipation is common in artificially reared kids “in certain herds” as a result of management practices that dictate too much grain and not enough water. In other words, dehydration and not enough fiber. He only mentions plant poisoning as a cause of constipation in mature goats. On the flip side, there is a 28-page chapter on diarrhea.
The word “constipation” is not in the index of Goat Science and Production by Sandra Solaiman. It’s hard to believe that all of the goat veterinary texts would ignore something if it were a common problem, especially one that allegedly kills kids.
The word “constipation” is not in the index of the third edition of Sheep, Goat, and Cervid Medicine by Pugh, Baird, Edmondson, and Passler, which just came out in March 2020. Again, why would a brand new veterinary textbook not include anything on constipation in its 500 pages if it were a real problem?
What can cause constipation in a baby goat?
If a newborn is being fed milk replacer, it can cause constipation if it is mixed up incorrectly with too much powder and not enough water. In other words, as mentioned by several of the textbooks, the goat is not getting enough water. I think this is why so many people talk about how milk replacer killed their kids and are adamant that kids should be fed either goat milk or cow milk.
No one is going to purposely over-concentrate milk replacer, so they would probably never know that the kid’s death was caused by human error rather than simply the milk replacer itself — especially when so many people talk about the evils of milk replacer. On the flip side, adding too much water can cause water intoxication, which can lead to blood in the urine.
If you are using milk replacer, it should be mixed up exactly according to directions as diluting it too much or not enough can both cause problems in kids, possibly resulting in death.
Why do so many people on social media think they have constipated goats?
It’s obvious that humans have a lot of problems with constipation. In 2018, American spent $1.4 billion on laxatives, so some people just assume all critters have the same poorly functioning digestive systems. But it’s widely accepted that human digestive problems are due to diets that are high in artificial ingredients and very low in fiber, as well as food sensitivities, which are not issues with goats, assuming you’re not feeding them Twinkies and Ho Hos.
However, a lot of people think constipation is “normal,” and that we have to make ourselves poop. This is not true with animals that are eating a natural diet. In 21 years, I’ve never had a single cow, sheep, goat, pig, llama, chicken, turkey, duck, goose, or any animal on this farm get constipated.
Unfortunately, constipation is becoming such a hot topic that too many people are assuming that it’s a problem with one of their goats. In most cases, there is nothing wrong with the goat at all.
What behaviors get confused with constipation in goats?
One woman described a doe that was basically acting like a buck, arching her back and making weird noises, which can be common when they’re in heat.
Another person had a buck that started thrusting when she was taking his temperature, which is also normal, yet the first person to comment suggested that the goat was constipated.
Another had a young buck that was arching his back in a manner that is perfectly normal for a buck that’s trying to figure out how to start acting like a buck.
“Arching the back” is sometimes the only “symptom” mentioned by people who think they have a constipated goat. Yet, goats don’t arch their back when they poop. Bucks do arch their back when they pee, especially when they pee on their faces. If a buck is arching his back, it could be a sign of a urinary stone causing a blockage, so if you don’t see him peeing, you should call a vet ASAP.
Another woman had a one-day-old kid that was standing hunched up with tail down and refused a bottle, and she assumed it was constipated — even though it was a dam-raised baby that had never had a bottle. Rather than working harder to get colostrum into the kid, she assumed it was not hungry and gave it multiple enemas. I have almost never had a dam-raised kid that wanted a bottle, even if it was on the verge of starvation, so refusal to take a bottle does not mean a kid is constipated.
If a newborn kid is weak, the first thing you have to do is get colostrum into it, and you cannot expect it to grab an artificial nipple and start sucking. (You have to hold the nipple in its mouth while the milk drips and the kid swallows. If a kid cannot swallow, then you have to tube feed.) In this case, the kid was one of quadruplets, and it is not unusual for a kid in that situation to wind up starving because there are only two teats. Unfortunately, the kid in this case died.
In the case of the later enemas, the woman even reported that no liquid was coming back out. That means the kid was dehydrated and was absorbing the water, which would be due to not consuming enough milk. Milk is 85% water, and if you stop giving kids milk, they will dehydrate and die, although hypoglycemia may kill them first, depending upon how young they are.
If you have a kid in the house and you have a dog, most dogs will eat poop, so you may never see it, or you will rarely see it. Our dog also licks the goat’s back ends, so if they poop while he’s licking, we’d never know. We keep baby goats in a laundry basket, which the dog has easy access to, and he keeps the poop cleaned up.
How do you prevent constipation in baby goats?
Colostrum is a natural laxative; the more colostrum baby goats get, the more they poop. The most common reason for a kid not to poop much in the first few days is starvation. Not enough colostrum = little to no poop.
First of all, newborns poop so little that if they are being dam raised you probably won’t see any kid poop at all for days or weeks at a time because it’s tiny and just disappears into the bedding. So don’t panic if you don’t see your baby goats pooping. I almost never see a baby goat poop.
If a kid is not getting enough milk, it will be standing with its back arched or laying down unable to stand and may or may not be crying. I used to see this a lot with kids that were one of quadruplets, but it could also happen with a first freshener who has triplets, or any doe that’s not making enough milk. It is absolutely vital that you get milk into them immediately. They will not want a bottle because they don’t know what it is, but it’s very important to get them to take it. I learned the hard way that some dam-raised kids will literally starve to death rather than take a bottle in the beginning.
This video shows you the challenge of getting a newborn to take a bottle.
Some people think that if they give a kid an enema and poop comes out, that means it was constipated, but it does not. That is just what happens when you give any animal an enema, whether they needed to poop or not. I’ve also heard people say that the kid was crying after an enema. That’s just because the enema caused bowel contractions — NOT because the kid was constipated.
Then there are stories like the one I found in the Yahoo group from more than ten years ago where the woman assumed her wether was constipated when he really had a urinary blockage. In addition to making a goat very unhappy by giving them an enema, you are wasting time not figuring out what is really wrong with your goat — or what’s normal about your goat.
Constipation should never be the first diagnosis you make whenever a goat looks a little off. Goat constipation is a very big deal on the rare occasion when it does happen. If you do have a constipated goat, it may have one of the very serious conditions listed above that would need veterinary attention. An enema doesn’t fix any of those problems.
Or you need to make sure that your goats have plenty of clean water available 24/7 and that they have access to enough hay and forage. Without enough water, they are also more likely to get urinary calculi, which is life-threatening.
When using milk replacer, you should be extra careful to mix it up exactly according to the directions, not using more or less water than instructed. If someone is helping feed kids who is not reliable, you might be better off using cow milk, if goat milk is not available.
With too much grain and not enough forage and hay, they are more likely to wind up with serious rumen disturbances that can also be life-threatening. In fact, enterotoxemia, bloat, and thiamine deficiency are all well-documented conditions caused by feeding errors and are much more common than constipation.
And if you’re feeding Twinkies and Ho Hos to your goats, please just stop.
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Originally published June 2017.