Pneumonia in Goats

Episode 92
For the Love of Goats

Pneumonia in Goats featured image

When some people hear a goat cough, pneumonia is often the first thing that comes to mind, but it is really not common in goats. A cough is also not a good indication of whether a goat has pneumonia or when it has recovered from pneumonia.

In today’s episode we are talking to Dr. Michael Pesato, Assistant Clinical Professor of Food Animal Medicine and Surgery at Mississippi State University. He is board certified with the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, specializing in Food Animal Practice.

We discuss the wide variety of reasons that goats cough, as well as the real symptoms of pneumonia and how it is diagnosed. We also talk about which antibiotics work best when a goat has pneumonia and why penicillin should not be the one you reach for first.

Dr. Pesato discusses the pneumonia vaccine in cattle and why it’s not appropriate for goats, as well as how management is the key to avoiding pneumonia.

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

Other episodes with Dr. Michael Pesato

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Deborah Niemann  0:03 
For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here is Deborah Niemann.

Deborah Niemann  0:18 
Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s episode. This is going to be a really informative episode, and really helpful for people, because it seems like every time somebody’s goat coughs, they immediately run for the penicillin, assuming that it is pneumonia. And, nothing could be further from the truth. There are so many reasons why a goat may cough.

Deborah Niemann  0:39 
So, we are joined today by Dr. Michael Pesato, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Food Animal Medicine and Surgery at Mississippi State University. He is board certified with the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, specializing in Food Animal Practice. And, he has been with us before, and it’s always so much fun to chat with him. So, welcome back to the show today!

Michael Pesato  1:02 
Awesome. Thanks, Deborah. I always love joining you.

Deborah Niemann  1:04 
This is such a good one, because before we got on, I pulled out the vet texts and was checking the chapters on respiratory illnesses. And basically, the longer the textbook, the longer the chapter on respiratory illnesses. And so, one was 17 pages, one was 38 pages, and one was 22 pages. So, they’re saying a lot more than just “pneumonia.” There’s a lot of stuff that goes on in a goat’s respiratory system. So, let’s go ahead and just start with pneumonia. Like, if a goat had pneumonia, what would you expect to see?

Michael Pesato  1:44 
Yeah, that’s, you know, a really great question. And, to be honest, I think, you know, you nailed it on the head. Even pneumonia as a respiratory disease is very complicated. It’s not straightforward, cut and dry. There are actually two kind of phases that go into pneumonia. There’s viral pathogens that cause respiratory disease that can start the process of developing pneumonia, and can almost look like what we would expect “pneumonia” to look like. And then, there’s bacterial causes that come in with pneumonia that are going to cause the actual lung damage and the primary clinical signs associated with pneumonia.

Michael Pesato  2:21 
So, looking at just pneumonia, at what would be kind of classic pneumonia external clinical signs, the classic thing people want to go for is cough. They want to say “coughing equals pneumonia,” and that, as you mentioned just now, there can be nothing further from the truth. Coughing can be caused by thousands of different things, one of which could be possible pneumonia, but that’s not going to be the top of my list, for sure. The other thing people want to go for when they’re thinking about pneumonia is an increased respiratory rate, or breathing hard or heavy. I would say that just an increased rate—so increased breaths per minute—is not going to be an accurate assessment for pneumonia. Now, when you talk about the quality of how they’re breathing—are they breathing heavy? Are they struggling to breathe? Are they having shallow breaths? That could definitely tilt you more towards the diagnosis of lung disease or lung pathology.

Michael Pesato  3:12 
The other thing that for me is really, really, really important when you’re doing triage at home, or when you’re looking for possible pneumonia, is to take a temperature. I can’t stress enough taking a temperature, how valuable and important that is. When it comes to the temperature of a goat, we’re looking anywhere from about 100.0 to 103.5 as normal. On a hot day, ambient temperature rise, 104 is not abnormal. But, if you can take a temperature on your goat, and you’re getting 105.5, 106, 107, 108, we’re probably going to start thinking that there’s some kind of pathology going on. And, if you couple that with things like respiratory effort being increased, plus having a cough, plus being sluggish and not eating, you know, plus separating themselves away from the rest of the goats and kind of putting themselves in a corner, then we start to kind of put the puzzle together that might be pneumonia.

Michael Pesato  4:07 
Now, nasal discharge would be another thing I’d look for. Again, I think that, like cough, could be misleading, though. Allergies can cause nasal discharge. Bugs and other foreign objects, like grass on a piece of straw, can cause nasal discharge. So, I think that is something by itself that means nothing, just like coughing. By itself, it really means nothing. But, you put together a more complete picture, including a temperature and other signs like increased respiratory effort, then we start to kind of put pneumonia on the table as something that could be there. But really, pneumonia, just as it’s complicated when it comes to the pathogens, it’s complicated when it comes to the presentation as well and how it looks.

Deborah Niemann  4:49 
Yeah. It’s so ironic; in 20 years, I have had one goat with pneumonia, and the only reason I know it is because I got a necropsy on her when she died.

Michael Pesato  4:58 
Exactly. Exactly.

Deborah Niemann  4:59 
And, when they said pneumonia, I was just like, “What? She never coughed!”

Michael Pesato  5:04 

Deborah Niemann  5:04 
Like, not once. Like, I was with her, you know? She never coughed. Like, I even put my ear up to her chest; I heard nothing.

Michael Pesato  5:13 
And that’s actually a great point that you bring up. Listening to the lungs, even with a stethoscope, may not be as sensitive for respiratory disease as we would like. So, even me as a veterinarian, when I listen to those lungs—especially in a goat. If you think about how a goat breathes, you can hear the sounds of the goat breathing. But, to hear something like a delicate crackle or wheeze that would indicate respiratory damage, that’s challenging. That’s even challenging with a stethoscope. So, just by sound, it can be tough to kind of make that decision. And, as you mentioned, some of these goats are hearty enough, but they won’t show any signs of clinical pneumonia until it’s too late and so much lung is damaged that they can no longer survive. So, it’s tough. It’s a complicated disease.

Deborah Niemann  5:59 
So, do you get the feeling that it’s really common? I mean, if you’re on Facebook, you think, like, everybody’s goats get pneumonia. Like, everybody’s got pneumonia in a goat, like, every year.

Michael Pesato  6:08 
Right, yeah. I would say, to be honest, I think it’s overdiagnosed in, you know, a lot of ways. And, overdiagnosed in, I think a lot of people assume that they have it without knowing exactly if they do. The diagnostic procedure to actually test for pneumonia pathogens is very complicated. We have to collect samples from the… Not lung tissue, but we put fluid down into the lungs classically, and we pull that fluid back up. And then, we’ll culture that for bacterial causes of pneumonia. So, to actually get, like, a solid diagnosis of pneumonia with a bacteria that we can treat effectively can be very, very challenging.

Michael Pesato  6:45 
I think what we see a lot of is coughing goats, honestly. And I think that, like we’ve already said, coughing goats get diagnosed with pneumonia 9 times out of 10. The coughing goat is like the bane of my existence. Because, honestly, it is so challenging to convince someone that it’s not an infectious disease. Coughing can be caused by allergies. It can be caused by irritation. It can be caused by collars. I have a lot of clients that put collars on goat. Tracheal irritation at all… If that collar is constantly pulling on that goat, you’re moving the goat with a collar, that could put enough irritation on the trachea that they’ll start coughing. I’ve had animals that have, like, dusty seed or hay that has a little bit more dust to it than normal, and they start coughing, and it always, it’s like, “Oh, the weather just changed and that must be pneumonia.” Don’t get me wrong, weather change is going to put stress on an animal, and it could increase the possibility of an infectious disease. But, just because the weather changed doesn’t mean that now this cough is from pneumonia—especially going into springtime, fall time. We’re looking at different allergens being in the air.

Michael Pesato  7:49 
I would say, we don’t have extensive research on every allergen that a goat could be exposed to, just because it is a production animal. So, we’re not spending thousands upon thousands of dollars to bring goats in for allergy testing like we would on dogs, right, that are pets. And even our pet goats, we don’t have the allergy testing that we need to look for that. So, a lot of this could just be allergens. So, I think it’s definitely overdiagnosed, especially in the layperson side of things, utilizing things like cough or snotty nose discharge, and then of course reaching for treatment options when it’s maybe not what we think it is.

Deborah Niemann  8:25 
Yeah. The most common reason that I see my goats cough is when they’re burping up their cud, and it just doesn’t quite come up the right way.

Michael Pesato  8:34 

Deborah Niemann  8:35 
Because, like, they’ll be laying there, you know, hanging out, burping up their cud, chewing, and then all of a sudden, they’re like, “Cough, cough, cough, cough,” you know? And then, “Gulp.” And you see them, like, trying to swallow again, and they’re like, “…Okay, got it.” Like, I honestly think they are the most talented creatures in the world. I have enough trouble with an esophagus that goes one way.

Michael Pesato  8:56 

Deborah Niemann  8:57 
The fact that they have a bidirectional esophagus just is amazing to me.

Michael Pesato  9:02 
It’s mind-blowing. Well, you’re right. And I always say, you know, “It goes down the wrong tube.” And, that happens sometimes when we’re drinking water. It happens to us; it can happen to them. You know, I mean, not to say that goats and people are the same. But, to be honest, we have similar anatomy—besides the fact that our esophagus doesn’t go both ways. So, it’s still possible, because the trachea and esophagus run so closely together, just like in humans, that things get accidentally in the wrong tube—whether it’s cud water, feed material, grass, a bug… Right? They could swallow a bug. I’ve swallowed a bug; it’s horrible, you know? You cough and cough and cough. And so, you have to kind of be careful going off of one isolated incident. And then, there are times, too, when if an animal did have respiratory disease, or if they had a virus of some kind, it’s possible that there’ll be some residual effects that take some time to heal.

Michael Pesato  9:49 
So, a lot of people think, “Well, I treated with antibiotics. My goat’s not getting better. I’m gonna put them on more antibiotics.” But, the reality is, if you have a cough for a long time, or if you had a diagnosed solid sign that was from something treatable, that treatment is going to take care of the pathogen, but not the inflammation necessarily. It may take a long time for that inflammation to come back, especially if there’s re-inflammation happening or re-irritation. So things like collars, again, if I have someone who had a goat with a bad, bad cough, I’d say, “Remove the collar. Let’s keep it off until things go away.” Because, all we’re gonna do is continue to irritate that tissue and make it worse. So, you have to kind of think about it in a common-sensical way as well.

Deborah Niemann  9:49 
Yeah, exactly. I guess since I have allergies, myself, and I cough kind of frequently, and I blow my nose and stuff, it’s super easy for me to understand the difference between allergies and sickness, or just, you know, “Oh, I had trouble swallowing—”

Michael Pesato  10:43 
Right. Right.

Deborah Niemann  10:44 
“—and that’s why I was choking and coughing.” Somebody sent me a video one time of a goat choking. And she was like, “What’s wrong with my goat?” And it was so obvious. Like, because you know how they’re just, like, flinging their head from side to side, because the food went down the wrong way? And I’m like, “Oh, my gosh. Well, your goat was choking.”

Michael Pesato  11:04 

Deborah Niemann  11:05 
“Should be fine now.”

Michael Pesato  11:06 
Yeah. And that happens, too. Even, you know, what we consider a choke in horses, which is very common, you know, where they actually get something stuck in the esophagus, that happens in goats, too, and they’ll cough and try to hack it up and get it out. Just like if we choked on something. You know, it got stuck in our esophagus or our trachea, we want to get that thing out of there. So, that choke is actually a great differential. If you’ve got an animal especially flailing or acting panicked at all, that is something that I would put higher than pneumonia, for sure.

Michael Pesato  11:34 
Now, could pneumonia come secondary to something like that, an episode like that? Absolutely. Anything that goes down into your trachea that shouldn’t go in there, or if you have a violent coughing episode, where you’re coughing something up, and you could potentially what we call “aspirate” it, then absolutely pneumonia could be a secondary problem that comes along. But then you’ll have kind of a day that you’re like, “Oh, okay, now they have a fever”—four or five, six days later—”and they had this episode, you know, five days ago. I bet you that something went down the wrong pipe, and now they’ve got a little infection.” That’s when you again—off of a fever. A fever, or an animal not eating, an animal acting depressed when you don’t look at them…

Michael Pesato  12:12 
Livestock are tricky. Goats, sheep, cows, they’re kind of tricky. If you stare at them, and they know you’re looking at them, they’re going to be alert and happy. They’re going to be looking at you, too, right? Their adrenaline’s kind of pumping. They’re like, “Oh, are you bringing me food? Or are you here to talk, or are you here to hang out?” So, what you kind of have to do is play sneak attack. So, if you’re suspicious your animal might have pneumonia, try not to let them know you’re in the barn, or you’re around the corner. Just look at them at rest. If they are laying there looking horrible, their eye is half-closed, snot coming out of their nose, just looking like “Ugh, I feel like death warmed over,” and then you walk around the corner, and you’re like, “Hey Misty,” and she pops up and she runs over to you… She’s kind of putting on a face for you. So, that’s one way you can kind of try and trick them a little bit, is sneak up on them.

Michael Pesato  12:58 
Also, you can tell how they’re breathing. Sometimes, when they’re all there, worked up, trying to eat at the same time, you can’t tell one versus the other, and they’re so worked up, and you really can’t tell an animal, how they’re breathing, when they’re eating. I wouldn’t go off of, “They’re breathing heavy while they eat,” especially if they have competition. That’s not a thing. So, look at them from around the corner, look at them from, you know, the doorway before you go in, before they notice. You can even count on your watch, your second hand, you can count how fast they’re breathing. But, you can also pay attention to the quality of their breath. So are they, like, really struggling? Or, is it just more of a natural kind of in-and-out resting kind of flow? That would be my recommendation if you’re suspicious, or you’re thinking “Man, I don’t know. You know, I really think it has pneumonia.” I know that Deborah said, “It may not be pneumonia.” Check those things. And then, when you get in there with the animal, get that temperature. That’s going to be key. Just going off that cough? Bad idea.

Deborah Niemann  13:53 
Yeah. And the breathing, too. A long time ago, I got really freaked out one time. I had a goat, I had put her into the kidding barn already, and I walked in there, and she was laying down, and she sounded like Darth Vader. Like, her breathing was like *wheezing.*

Michael Pesato  14:12 
Oh, my.

Deborah Niemann  14:12 
And I was like, “Oh my gosh, what’s wrong?”

Michael Pesato  14:13 

Deborah Niemann  14:14 
You know, like, I run for the thermometer, because I think, “That’s, like, the most abnormal breathing ever,” and she had no temperature. And when she stood up, then she was totally fine. Her breathing was completely normal.

Michael Pesato  14:25 

Deborah Niemann  14:26 
She was carrying four kids.

Michael Pesato  14:27 
Correct. I was just gonna say, her diaphragm was so compressed that she could barely get her breath in there. That is really a great point to bring up that you need to know, too. And, this goes back to reproductive management. I think we both are in agreement that reproductive management is really good, knowing kind of where your animals are in their reproductive life. Because, if you don’t know that your animal’s pregnant with four kids, or even that she’s pregnant at all, you might think, “Oh, that’s pneumonia. We’ve got to treat it.” But, knowing that “Okay, I’m moving this animal to the kidding barn. Likely, she’s going have multiple because she’s a goat.” When she lays down, and you hear that raspy breath, don’t panic. Although, I love that you took her temperature, because that’s really what you should do first! That’s the first thing to do. So, I think that’s a great story to tell, because it’s so accurate.

Deborah Niemann  15:15 
Yeah. And it just blew me away how, when she stood up, her breathing was just completely quiet again. So, like, that’s such a big part of it is, you know, to watch them. And, what I always tell people, like, “Pneumonia is a very serious disease. Does this animal act like they’re very sick?”

Michael Pesato  15:32 

Deborah Niemann  15:33 
I mean, if it’s just a cough, it could be anything.

Michael Pesato  15:36 
Exactly. Exactly.

Deborah Niemann  15:37 
So, if somebody does have, you know, say, a fever of 105, 106 degrees, and they’re coughing, or have some other respiratory symptoms, is there something good to try before calling the vet?

Michael Pesato  15:51 
Yeah. So, what’s really interesting about goats, what’s kind of challenging about goats, to be honest, is that if you’re looking at what medications are on label… So, you know, we talk a lot about on-label versus extra-label. So basically, every medication in the United States has a label for certain species of animal, for a certain indication, and it’ll tell you exactly how much to give for that animal at this indication, for this indication, etc. And so, that makes life a lot easier when you have over-the-counter antimicrobials that you’re going to use and you’re going to follow.

Michael Pesato  16:24 
However, for goats, there’s no such thing as an on-label medication for pneumonia that is over-the-counter. There are on-label medications— Well, there’s one on-label medication that is a prescription-only medication from the veterinarian. And that’s a product called Naxcel. It has goats on the label, which is unique, because again, there are no other products in the United States that are labeled for goats for pneumonia. If we’re going to extrapolate and use other products, it’s hard for me to say to grab one off the shelf, because technically, legally, I can’t say to do that, because there is a product on-label. So, I would definitely recommend, if you’re really concerned about your goat having pneumonia, call that veterinarian. They can give you advice, too. If they can’t get there for whatever reason, and they need you to triage until they get there, they may tell you what antibiotic to use.

Michael Pesato  17:09 
Here’s the kicker: If you just grab any antibiotic… Let’s say penicillin. Penicillin, unfortunately, it’s really, really good about targeting gram-positive organisms. Basically, that just means that it goes after bacteria that are going to stain a certain way if you would stain them on a slide. What it’s not great about going after are gram-negative organisms. Unfortunately, the bacteria that cause pneumonia in goats are mostly gram-negative organisms, or they are organisms that don’t even have a cell wall, something to stain. And, the way that penicillin works is by attacking the cell wall. So, if you grab penicillin, it’s probably the worst thing you could give, only because it’s not really geared to work against pneumonia as well as some of our other products. And, if you choose to use an antibiotic, you’ve tied the hands a bit of your veterinarian. So, if you grab an antibiotic—let’s say you grab penicillin—and you give it to your animal, that antibiotic works by going after that cell wall and killing the bacteria. It literally just kills them. Now, we might want to use a different antibiotic that will be better, that might work best for your goat. We might want to use something like an oxytetracycline. But, oxytetracycline or LA-200, that works by stopping growth of bacteria. Well, if you already killed the bacteria, or killed some of them, giving them the one that stops the growth doesn’t make much sense. So, we have to try to stay on the same kind of path of that killing antibiotic in order to keep momentum moving.

Michael Pesato  18:36 
So, I caution people with grabbing an antibiotic off the shelf and saying, “I’m gonna go ahead and use this,” because your veterinarian might come back, “Well, now I only can use this type of product. I would have gone with something different.” Right now, over the counter, we’ve got penicillin and oxytetracycline. As of 2023, that’s going to change. We’re going to actually lose all of our over-the-counter antimicrobials—well, I should say “antibiotics”—that are medically important to humans, which include tetracyclines and penicillin. So, we’re going to lose the capability to have access to those medications, those products. We’re gonna have to use the veterinary prescriptions for those. But right now, over-the-counter, those are available. And, if you’re in a total pinch, and you can’t get ahold of your veterinarian, and you need to do something, the oxytetracycline is going to have maybe a more broad-spectrum approach versus a penicillin.

Michael Pesato  19:24 
Now, again, I’m not encouraging you to go buy tetracycline and only use tetracycline. I would encourage strongly that you call your veterinarian. Get an idea of what they want to do first. If they say, “Oh, yeah, that’s a great idea. Let’s go with a tetracycline. I would choose to use that anyway,” then go for it. But again, most of the time for pneumonia, unless the veterinarian is highly suspicious that it’s a bacteria that won’t respond to the Naxcel, that’s going to be the choice that your veterinarian is going to go for, and that’s a prescription. What’s beautiful about that Naxcel—and I don’t work for Zoetis, I think, who makes it, or whatever company makes Naxcel. But, what’s beautiful about that antibiotic, you have to reconstitute it. It’s powder, and you put water in there to reconstitute it. You can use it and then freeze it, and unthaw it and use it again one time. And that’s on the label; that’s been tested and tried. So, that’s kind of nice, because you might have a animal with pneumonia, and you buy a bottle of that, and maybe it’s only “this” big, but it’s 20 mLs, and you might only use 5 mLs of it. Well, you can freeze it and unthaw it later and use it again.

Michael Pesato  20:24 
And again, as a veterinarian, I have to say, for my legal reasons, calling the vet and getting that prescription of Naxcel is the best thing you could do. But in a pinch, if you are just out of luck, you have no veterinarian who can get to you nearby, and no one can talk to you, oxytetracycline will be more broad-spectrum than using a penicillin. What you never want to use—and this, your vet shouldn’t even have given it to you. And if they have, then that’s no good, because it is completely illegal, is Baytril, an enrofloxacin which is a completely prescription-only antibiotic. But, if you have it for your cows, you have it for your dog, or something in your house from another prescription, do not use it in your goat. It is an illegal drug to use extra-label, period, end of story. And, goats are not on-label for that product at all. So, that is a big legal problem. Unfortunately, I have seen people prescribe it for pneumonia in goats, and it is something that that vet could get a lot of trouble for. You may not get in any trouble unless you’re milking those animals, or you’re selling some kind of product from them, and that comes up in your milk or meat, because that is a very important antibiotic for humans. And so, it’s only labeled to treat respiratory disease in cattle. So, it’s not labeled for goats, unfortunately.

Michael Pesato  21:42 
So yeah, long story short— I feel like I kind of was a convoluted on my answer here. But, I think it’s important for me to point out that a lot of antibiotics are not labeled for goats, one. There’s only one labeled antibiotic for goats, which is Naxcel, which is prescription-only. So, I’d try to get that the best you can. If you have a good relationship with your vet, they should be comfortable sharing that with you as they kind of talk to you about what to look for for pneumonia. Oxytetracycline is more broad-spectrum, I’d say, than penicillin. So, if in a totally emergency situation, where you absolutely have no access to a veterinarian, and your veterinarian can’t get to you, oxytetracycline would probably be a better option to grab off of the shelf, just because you’re going to have a little bit more coverage with that antibiotic. Again, try to consult that veterinarian; they may say, “Yeah, go ahead and use that, and we’ll get you Naxcel as soon as we can.” They may say, “Yeah, let’s just try it and see what happens. Later down the line, we can switch up our options.” So, keep that in mind. Try to keep an open mind with that vet. If you don’t have a vet, try to get one soon, because we’re not gonna have any over-the-counter antibiotics soon. So, we’re gonna all be kind of forced to utilize veterinarians, which, in my opinion, is a good idea. But, I’m a vet. So, I’m a little biased. So hopefully, that’s helpful. I know, it’s a lot of information. But hopefully that was a little helpful.

Deborah Niemann  22:52 
Yeah, definitely. And so, I have heard all kinds of craziness. So, there’s a part of me, like, as a person who might need an antibiotic, I like being able to go to the store and buy it. But, I have heard all kinds of craziness. I have heard people say that they were giving, you know, antibiotic injections to their goat for two weeks, but it wasn’t getting any better. Or, like, “Oh, I gave it to her for five days, and she got better. And then, a couple of weeks later, she started coughing again. So, I started giving it to her again.” Can you talk about how long should you use an antibiotic? And then, what do you do if it doesn’t clear up?

Michael Pesato  23:29 
Absolutely. I agree with you, Deborah. Like, people like you, I’d be happy with you going over and getting medication, because you are somebody who does a lot of research and you look into things. And obviously, you host this podcast, which is just such great information for people all over the place. And so, you understand how these antibiotics can be very helpful. What we do see, as you mentioned, is abuse of the antibiotics. And, that’s a lot of the reason why it’s being removed from over-the-counter, because we’ve seen a lot of inappropriate use of antibiotics. And so, as a veterinarian, one of my goals in life is to practice what we call “judicious” use of antibiotics. So, we only really use them if we absolutely have to.

Michael Pesato  23:46 
And, that’s kind of the point of our conversation today, is saying “Coughing goat? Not necessarily needing an antibiotic.” If you get an antibiotic over the counter and you’re going to use it, I would recommend for a penicillin, something like that, those antibiotics need to be given over the course of multiple days. Now, I would say with a penicillin again, I wouldn’t use that first for pneumonia. But, giving one dose of penicillin is completely inappropriate. You have to give multiple doses. And, what I tend to recommend is 5 to 7 days of treatment with penicillin. That’s once a day for 5 to 7 days. Giving it for a month and a half is probably less than ideal if you’re not seeing any improvements.

Michael Pesato  24:42 
For something like oxytetracycline that—especially if you’re using, like, an LA-200. That “LA” stands for “long-acting.” It’s supposed to act longer and last longer. Now, I know goats have a faster metabolism than some of our other farm animal species. But, that doesn’t mean that we can give a goat LA-200 once a day for 2 weeks. Nothing is benign. Anything you give to an animal is going to compromise their organs, because that kidney or liver is being used to filter out and get rid of this antibiotic. So, we don’t want to overwhelm either of those organs and lead to kind of kidney or liver failure due to the fact that we’ve given them too much antibiotics over the course of time. I typically recommend… With my oxytetracycline, I recommend every other day for anywhere from 2 to 3 treatments, and see how things are going. We should see response from those animals in that timeframe. If you’re not seeing a response, that might be a great time to go ahead and either call the veterinarian, if you haven’t done that yet, or switch up your antibiotic to something different.

Michael Pesato  25:22 
My goal in life is that my clients are as autonomous as they want to be. I don’t want my clients to feel like I’m always breathing down their neck about stuff. But, I got to know that you’re using products correctly. Just like Deborah said, it’s completely inappropriate to give antibiotics for, like, 5 days, and then 2 weeks later start them again because the problem is back. Probably there’s something else going on there, right? So, this is where veterinarians are going to definitely come into play and be helpful for you, whether it’s someone you’re consulting with over telemedicine, which is something that might have to happen more often now that we have underserved areas that don’t have veterinarians, And, we might need to be better about helping service them, get them the medications that they need, but also help teach our clientele how to use them better.

Michael Pesato  26:23 
So, I think the key thing to remember is that, one, antibiotics are not benign. They mess with not only the kidney and liver, but they can mess with the rumen micro-flora and -fauna. They can cause your animals to go off feed, because you’re basically treating their healthy bugs, too. It’s not just necessarily going after the bad bugs. Two, if an antibiotic has been given over the course of more than 5 to 7 days, it’s probably not going to work if we’re not seeing improvement of some kind. Now, gauging that improvement may be challenging, but I would definitely recommend taking a temperature, and then following along with daily temperatures to see if your fever is going down. See if your breathing gets any better. See if that animal starts eating more. Those are signs that things are working. If that’s not happening, it’s not working. If it’s a cough with no fever, great appetite, no nasal discharge, normal breathing, it doesn’t need antibiotics. So, that in and of itself is a sign that you probably shouldn’t continue giving the medications. And, when in doubt, you know—and really, I’d recommend it first and then kind of moving forward with a plan—call the veterinarian. Get some advice. Figure out what is best to do now.

Michael Pesato  27:29 
And, I know some of you are like, “I don’t have a vet that does goats.” I know that. I hear you, and my mission as an academician who works in academia is to teach my students to go out there and become your veterinarians in the future. That’s what I want to do for you. But for now, bear with us. Try to consult with people, whether it be telemedicine with your veterinarian that maybe a couple hours away, and ask them questions about how to move about doing this process—especially when we take off antibiotics over-the-counter. I think that’s going to become more and more prevalent, that you’re gonna have the opportunity to work with your veterinarian in a different way. But yeah, keep in mind, if there is no improvement with that antibiotic, it probably is not working. So, stop giving it. Switch it up. Talk to somebody who might have a little bit more medical knowledge, who can give you a little bit more better idea.

Michael Pesato  28:18 
Okay, that is so good to know.

Deborah Niemann  28:20 
Yeah. One thing that somebody recently asked me about—and it’s kind of surprising, because I actually had not heard anybody ask this before. But, you know, they say, “If one person’s asking, there’s other people with the same question.” So, there is a pneumonia vaccine, I think, for cattle. And so, somebody was asking about giving that to their goats. And my response was “Pneumonia is really not a big problem in goats. So, I wouldn’t do it.” I mean, and it’s off-label, even.

Michael Pesato  28:48 
Exactly. Absolutely. I’m so glad you brought this up. I wanted to make sure we talked about this before we ended our show today. So, there are multiple vaccines for cattle respiratory disease. As Deborah said, there’s absolutely no labeled vaccination for goats or sheep at this time in this country. That being said, there are cattle vaccinations. And, a lot of people do say, “Okay, I’m gonna go and use the cattle vaccine,” because they read the box, right? Read the box, read the bottle, and if you read the box or bottle, it’ll say the viruses that affect cattle are listed on there. All of them except for one start with “bovine.” So, that can tell you right there that probably isn’t gonna work in a caprine. So, if it’s “bovine respiratory syncytial virus,” “bovine viral diarrhea virus,” “infectious bovine rhinotracheitis,” those are all viruses that affect cattle, right?

Michael Pesato  29:34 
The only virus there that there may have been some cross-protection is that respiratory syncytial virus. There is a caprine and bovine form of that, but there’s no real evidence to show that, in the virus side of things, that that vaccine for cows is going to do anything for your goats. So, there’s absolutely no proven literature and no studies. Everything would be empirical, meaning it would come from somebody who’s done it before and said they had improvement. But, I would go back to Deborah’s point that goat pneumonia is not extremely common. So, I would say that that improvement… I wonder what has improved, right? Whether it’s weight gain, or is it less coughing goats, or what is the improvement there?

Michael Pesato  30:13 
The other vaccination that’s available for cattle is a bacterial vaccination. So, the bacteria that cause respiratory disease in goats and cattle are kind of similar. They actually have the same names. The big ones are Mannheimia haemolytica and Pasteurella multocida. So, those two different bacteria are similarly named in goats and cattle. The difference, though, is that they are different serotypes. So, cattle have a serotype; goats have a serotype. The vaccine currently available on the market is for the cattle serotype. And, there’s absolutely no evidence at all it protects against the goat serotypes. So, if you’re dealing with bacterial pneumonia, the vaccine for the cows, where we might see some cross-protection with the virus, with one specific virus, there’s no proof, no evidence, nothing that says goats will benefit from being vaccinated with a cattle vaccine. 

Michael Pesato  31:05  
Again, nothing’s benign. Goats can have anaphylactic reactions, just as much as anything. So, if you’re using that product with no obvious benefit, and you’re just giving it “just in case,” the likelihood you’re gonna get an anaphylactic reaction one day is probably pretty high. Because obviously, there’s no evidence it’s going to do something good. But, there’s a chance that it’ll do something bad. And, that anaphylaxis has been proven that that can happen in goats and sheep and really anything, right? Anything can have a reaction to something injected. So, if it were me, I probably wouldn’t waste my money purchasing cattle vaccines for respiratory disease and giving it to my goats. 

Michael Pesato  31:42  
And, I’m taking some of this information from of my colleagues, and one of my colleagues said, “I’m not going to sit here in my office and tell you to stop doing something that works.” So, if it’s working for you, and you feel like you’re getting positive results from vaccinating your does with a respiratory vaccine, more power to you. I can’t prove it actually works. I don’t encourage my clients to do it. But, I’m not going to tell you “Hey, stop doing that,” if you feel like it works. I can only say that there is no evidence, and the likelihood that you could have a problem from this vaccine or this injection is probably pretty high, just because you’re adding one more thing to inject into your goat, which you may not need to do. 

Michael Pesato  32:21  
So, my personal preference: Don’t stress about vaccines for respiratory disease. Try to manage things based on environment. Try to manage things based on stress level. You know, where we do see a lot of pneumonia issues is goats that are moved around a lot. So, if you’re selling your goats to someone in Wyoming, and you’re in Pennsylvania, there’s a risk that they’re gonna get respiratory disease from that, right, because their immune systems are really stressed. And mostly, it’ll be viral. So, even then, the bacteria may not come into play. So, I recommend trying to manage rather than prevent with injectable products when it comes to goats.

Deborah Niemann  32:57  
When I first got my goats, I bought the first three from a lady in Wisconsin, who told me that the most important thing was air quality. And basically, the goats go outside every day, unless it’s pouring or blizzarding or something. They go outside every day so they can get fresh air. They have a nice thick coat of cashmere to keep themselves warm. As long as they’ve got a windbreak, as long as they’re not wet, and as long as they’re not in the wind, they’ll be warm, even in our crazy Illinois and Wisconsin winters. And, you know, like, I feel like that’s worked, because like I said, in 20 years, I’ve had one case of pneumonia. So, I think air quality is just hugely important. And, I’ve known people who’ve, like, driven themselves crazy. Like, they’re cleaning out their barn every day. And I’m like, “No, no, no. Don’t.” I know, I was first really creeped out when I heard about the whole idea of deep litter. But yeah, you only are gonna push a wheelbarrow through snow so many times before you say, “This is crazy. I’m not doing this anymore.” 

Deborah Niemann  32:57  
So, we basically keep the door open on the east side of our barn every day, all the time, so that ammonia can escape—and just one side. That way air is not whipping through there, so there’s no breeze. You know, they say that it should be “well-ventilated, but not drafty.”

Michael Pesato  34:15  
That is a perfect quote. That’s, like, textbook quote. Yep. No, absolutely. And, that’s hard to achieve, like, sometimes, because you don’t know what that means necessarily, right? I agree with you wholeheartedly, though. I think if you’re concerned about the ammonia levels in your barn, get down on your hands and knees. That’s what I recommend. Get down on your hands and knees, and see what the goats are breathing in on a daily basis. Because, that ammonia will have effects on your mucociliary apparatus, that can have effects on your lungs, so get down on those hands and knees and crawl around. It sounds crazy, but I mean, I’ve done it. You know, crawl around in the barn. Smell what they smell. Get an idea how overwhelming it is. And it’ll tell you if you need to increase your air quality by increasing your ventilation. Or, if you need to go in there and do some spot cleaning or mucking, and get some of that manure material, urine material, out of there. 

Michael Pesato  35:04  
I 100% agree with you that air quality is huge. You can also—if you’re ever concerned, this is something we do in a lot of calf barns. Taking, like, a fogger, like that you’d use for insect removal, but, like, put some kind of a coloring into the water that you’re going to use in the fogger. And, let that whole barn fill with that fog. See where that air goes. Does it leave, or does it just sit there? Is there a lot of cracks in your barn that that colored air disappears through that makes it drafty? Or, is it nice and kind of just flowing through, and you can see it kind of moving around the barn and back out? We do that to check ventilation in a lot of calf barns, and I think you could easily do that in a small ruminant barn. Obviously, you’d be able to close yourself in that barn and see how things would move, or keep that door open and see, you know, if it’s sucking right out or what happens with it. But that air quality, that’s one way to manage yourself around pneumonia, rather than just throw treatments and medication at it.

Deborah Niemann  36:03  
Yeah. This has been really amazing information today that you’ve shared. Is there anything else that people need to know about pneumonia and preventing it? Treating it? Anything?

Michael Pesato  36:12  
You know, I think we’ve covered a lot, and I’m really happy that we were able to talk about this. It’s something that I think is really important to discuss. You know, I think my one end would always be: Utilize your veterinarian if you have one in your area. If you don’t, you know, tell people about it, and say, “We need a vet in our area.” And utilize the services that a veterinarian will provide you. And, keep in mind that a cough does not equal horrible bacterial pneumonia. I know we’ve stressed it a lot, but there’s a reason we’ve stressed that a lot. It’s very important to remember that coughing goats does not equal pneumonia. So, don’t run and reach for the nearest antibiotic and throw that at them. 

Michael Pesato  36:49  
And, thank you so much for having me. It’s always a pleasure.

Deborah Niemann  36:52  
Yeah, thank you for being with us today. 

Deborah Niemann  36:56  
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit, and you can follow us on Facebook at See you again next time. Bye for now!

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6 thoughts on “Pneumonia in Goats”

  1. I’m so disappointed! Where this podcast did a good job focusing on not panicking if your goat coughs, it did played down pneumonia so much, and didn’t talk about comorbidities that come with fever, that people may not even consider pneumonia when it hits their herd, ESPECIALLY kids! Here in the Deep South, late kidded kids have a VERY hard time in our heat and humidity. Pneumonia was TERRIBLE for many producers down here last summer with our extremely wet spring that went into June. I was feeding kids for a high producer friend because I was off for the summer and could give them a closer eye and more frequent feedings. I battled pneumonia in those babies ALL summer! Yes, I was under veterinary care (which I have to cross state lines to find a decent goat vet), and DIARRHEA was the FIRST noticeable symptom we would have to even grab a thermometer. Their respiratory symptoms, IF present without a stethoscope, were very unremarkable. I only had one little doeling end up with a high respiratory rate that you could tell she was having trouble breathing. The vets we were seeing told us if you have fever AND diarrhea you should instantly think pneumonia in goat kids because the fever induces diarrhea as a comorbidity. I knew of other goat producers, who had been raising goats for decades, lose kids this year because they only treated the symptoms of diarrhea thinking it was feed or coccidia. They had no idea there was a comorbidity of fever causing diarrhea and to even think pneumonia. Thankfully, I didn’t lose any kids in my care, but it was really questionable some days. Pneumonia is common in some areas of the country, and it isn’t during the winter. Dr. Mike may have needed to tap into that since we live in the same state…..

    • If a goat has a fever, then it is NOT coccidia or worms and probably not feed. A fever indicates an infection — not necessarily pneumonia, especially if there is also diarrhea. A visit to the vet is in order to rule out infectious causes of diarrhea. In most cases with infection, an antibiotic is the treatment. But I would not list diarrhea as a symptom of pneumonia just because they happened to co-exist in some goats. The #1 cause of diarrhea in kid 3 weeks to 5 months is coccidia, but that would NOT include a fever, so treating a kid with diarrhea and a fever with a coccidia drug would not be the best idea.

  2. Having just experienced a herd wide episode of Mannheimia Hemolytica pneumonia in my goat herd I’m a little disappointed there was no discussion of care and concerns post pneumonia. We lost one pregnant doe who went from fine with no symptoms to dead in 24 hours. In all we had to treat 10 goats with Ceftiflex for 5 days before the high fevers resolved. While the fevers are gone, coughs are not. I’m wondering what the long term prognosis is for goats who have survived pneumonia especially in a working dairy herd? While our vet group is quite experienced with goats, most of their clients are hobby farms or pet goat owners so they do not have a lot of insight into whether these goats will regain their past productivity. I also was hoping for information on the Colorado Serum Mannheimia Haemolytica-Pasteurella Multocida Bacterin which appears to be approved for goats. I live in NH and have had very little luck finding resources willing to answer questions. Any insight or resources would be greatly appreciated. Thank You!

    • We just recorded an episode on vaccines for goats. It will drop on Jan. 18, and this vaccine was discussed. The short answer is that it’s not really proven to prevent pneumonia in goats.

  3. Very informative I always worried about the winter but it totally makes sense, I ,had one pass from pneumonia a few years ago so this was definitely a concern for me


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