Red Cell for Goats: Study Examines Its Effectiveness

Episode 107
For the Love of Goats

Red Cell for Goats featured image

Although it is a fairly common practice for goat owners to treat anemic animals with Red Cell after deworming, there had not been any research on whether it was helpful — until now.

Today’s guest, Joan Burke, PhD, Research Animal Scientist at the USDA, ARS Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center, is one of the co-authors on a study that looked at whether using Red Cell could help an anemic goat or sheep recover more quickly after being treated with a dewormer.

Dr. Burke talks about the 4 different experiments that were done, using different dewormers, with and without Red Cell. She talks about how much Red Cell was used and the effect on the animals’ packed cell volume (PCV) and fecal egg count (FEC) after one week and two weeks.

We also get into a similar study that was done using injectable iron, and she even gives you a bonus tip at the end on treating strogyloides (threadworm).

Other episodes with Dr. Joan Burke

Episode 36 – Basics of Goat Research
Episode 30 – Copper Oxide as a Dewormer

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Transcript – Red Cell for Goats

Introduction 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 0:19
Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s episode! If you are one of those people who uses Red Cell when you have an animal that is severely parasitized, this is the episode for you. And, even if you haven’t used it, but you’ve been wondering why people use it, this episode is for you. So, I’m really looking forward to this.

Deborah Niemann 0:37
I’ve never used Red Cell, and I’ve had a lot of parasitized animals who’ve recovered, so I was super excited when I saw that Joan Burke, PhD Research Animal Scientist at the USDA, ARS Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center was one of the co-authors of a study that was specifically done using Red Cell on animals that were anemic from barber pole worm and were treated with a dewormer. And, they did this experiment to see—four experiments, actually—to see if giving them Red Cell made a difference in their recovery. And, that is what we are talking about today. Welcome to the show today, Dr. Burke!

Joan Burke 1:16
Thanks, Deborah! Thanks for having me on the podcast again. Exciting to be with you again.

Deborah Niemann 1:21
Yeah, it’s great to have you back. Dr. Burke has been with us before to talk about her research on copper oxide wire particles and some other parasite issues. So, it’s basically what she spends her days doing at the Research Center there, is studying worms in sheep and goats.

Deborah Niemann 1:36
So, give us a quick overview of the studies that were done. Like, there were four different groups of sheep and goats, using different dewormers and everything. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Joan Burke 1:48
I can. And, I want to give credit to my colleagues. So, Niki Whitley, two students, and Thomas Terrill from Fort Valley State University were co-authors on the paper. And really, Niki Whitley, Dr. Whitley, was the one who did the research at farms in Georgia. So, she was able to get some collaborative farms to do this. So basically, there were four experiments, the first two done on lambs, two different age groups, either 5 to 6 months of age or 6 to 7 months of age, and then on goats at either 8 to 9 months of age or 12 months. And, all the animals were kind of moderately parasitized. So, fecal egg counts in the range of about 3,000 eggs per gram. The lambs were not especially anemic, but the goats were a little bit more anemic.

Joan Burke 2:40
So, in each of the studies, Red Cell was used in combination with a dewormer. So, the dewormer and the Red Cell were used one time, and only one dose of Red Cell was used. So, in each case, 30 mLs was given. And, Red Cell is a product developed for racehorses. So, Dr. Whitley had gotten word from a lot of producers that they were using Red Cell to help animals recover from severe parasitism. So, that’s why she did the control study. So, the dewormers used were albendazole or Valbazen. Levamisole or Prohibit was used in two of the studies. And then, moxidectin or Cydectin was used in the last study.

Joan Burke 3:19
So, that’s the study design. And then, basically, samples were collected for fecal egg count and packed cell volume—which is a measure of anemia. Samples were collected on days 0—which was the day of treatment—7 and 14 days later. So, that’s kind of what we recommend to use to determine whether a dewormer was effective or not. And then, in this case, if any benefit to the Red Cell was going to be viewed, we would see it within that 14-day period. And, what we’d want to see is a faster recovery in packed cell volume.

Deborah Niemann 3:52
Okay. And, I just want to emphasize the fact that the amount of Red Cell given was 30 CCs, which is a whole ounce. So, if anybody is listening and thinking, “Oh, you only gave it once”—but it was 30 CCs. So, that’s a lot of Red Cell to give to an animal.

Joan Burke 4:08
Yeah. So, there’s a number of nutrients in Red Cell, but the nutrient that we’re kind of targeting to help alleviate anemia is iron. So, there’s 300 milligrams in the 30 mLs, and the required daily amount is 6 to 10 milligrams per day. So, it’s quite a bit of iron. And, we can talk about that a bit, you know, kind of the drawbacks of using a lot of specific nutrients. It does also have a lot of vitamin A in it. The other nutrients are kind of at a daily dose. So, it’s not too big of deal if they get too much.

Deborah Niemann 4:43
But, it is a big deal if they get too much iron, right? So, that’s why I think a lot of people look at this and go, “Oh, well, it can’t hurt,” and so they just keep giving it.

Joan Burke 4:52
Yeah. I think one day is fine. Maybe three days are fine. But, if you’re giving it more than that, there’s a chance of giving iron toxicity. And, it’s hard to tell what the other sources of iron are; you’d be surprised all the different sources of iron an animal can get hold of just from feed troughs, or water, or even feed or mineral. So really, if producers are going to use it more than one time, they really need to know what the status of the nutrient content of the diet and the environment and the animal is.

Deborah Niemann 5:24
And weirdly enough, I have even had people ask me if they should give Red Cell to their goats on a regular basis, which—

Joan Burke 5:30
I would not do that.

Deborah Niemann 5:31
Yeah, exactly. It’s like, goats do not need extra iron in their diet unless they are severely anemic.

Deborah Niemann 5:38
So, can you talk a little bit more about the effect on the PCV? Because, you said that that’s how you determined if the Red Cell was making a difference. And, you did have control groups; some of the goats and sheep got the Red Cell, but some got 30 mLs of water. And so, did you see a difference in the PCV on those two groups?

Joan Burke 6:01
Yeah. And, let me back up for a second. So, in each treatment, there were four different treatment groups used. So, a control of nothing given, just Red Cell given, just the dewormer given, or the dewormer plus Red Cell. So, I just want to make that clarification before we go on.

Deborah Niemann 6:19

Joan Burke 6:19
In each study, it does look like there was some dewormer resistance, but it looks like, for the most part, I think levamisole was pretty effective. Maybe the Valbazen was not very effective—that’s not surprising. But, the other ones looked like they worked pretty well. And, there really wasn’t any difference among treatment, I think, except for the control group that didn’t get anything. There really wasn’t much difference among the dewormer with or without the Red Cell, so both for fecal egg counts and packed cell volume. So, that’s really the most important measurement, is the packed cell volume. So, animals recovered within two weeks—maybe “recovered” isn’t the right word. But, in three out of four of the studies, packed cell volume did go back up after the deworming, and in one—the last study with goats—it just stayed the same. So, it was not effective in helping alleviate anemia.

Deborah Niemann 7:18
So, the Red Cell didn’t make a difference in the packed cell volume, regardless of how well the dewormer worked.

Joan Burke 7:25

Deborah Niemann 7:26
Okay. And then, are you aware of any other similar studies that have been done?

Joan Burke 7:31
I am not aware of any similar studies done with iron or Red Cell. However, there was a study done by Rocha and coworkers; researchers gave injectable iron, which increased liver iron and increased red blood cell production. I don’t know what the details of that are. But, it might be that injectable iron might be a little bit better than the oral dose of it, so. But, they weren’t specifically looking at recovery of anemia or parasites.

Joan Burke 8:04
And then, there was another study that looked at increasing selenium content. And, that did help. But basically, if your animals are on a good plane of nutrition with selenium in the mineral, you shouldn’t need to add additional selenium, and you could potentially give toxicity if they did have too much selenium. So, those are the only ones I know of, other than the research that we’ve done with the copper oxide wire particles, which is kind of a different mechanism than just that nutrient itself.

Deborah Niemann 8:33
But, in general, I love what you just said about the plane of nutrition, because that is something that I’ve seen in studies, where it talks about the importance of, like, possibly increasing their protein when they are recovering from worms—and that that does help them. Which makes sense, because if their body condition is really bad, they have to regrow muscle and everything, and you would expect them to need additional protein to do that.

Joan Burke 8:57
Yeah. There’s been a lot of research done on increasing protein or energy, but protein consistently will help animals be more tolerant to parasites, so you’ll have less need to give dewormer, because they won’t get to that critical, anemic state. And then, certainly, if they do get to that critical state, you know, that’s when you should back up and say, “Well, maybe I need to re-evaluate the plane of nutrition.” So, look at the body condition of the animals. If they’re in 3.0 or 3.5 out of a 5.0 point scale, then they’re probably in pretty good condition. And occasionally, if animals are overstocked on a pasture, they’re going to be more susceptible to parasites. And, you know, if they’re stressed, just at weaning time, they’re going to be more susceptible. So, I mean, my recommendation, rather than relying on dewormers, is to really pay attention to management during those critical time points. Kind of fine-tune nutrition and protein. Make sure a good-quality mineral is used, so no cafeteria-sty;e minerals, but rather a good, loose mineral with a reputable source.

Deborah Niemann 9:13
That sounds great! And then, the other part, too, of the whole parasite issue is, you know, pasture rotation, to get them off of the grass where the worm eggs are hatching.

Deborah Niemann 10:21
But, it’s really great that you did this study, because I know, you see so many people on social media talking about using Red Cell. And, they believe it helps, which makes sense, because, like, they give it to their animal and their animal gets better. But, like I said in the introduction, I’ve never used Red Cell, and my animals get better. So, I’ve always kind of questioned why people were doing that. And also, I’ve never had a vet tell me that I need to do that. And, in fact, in the early years, I even remember a vet being concerned about the risk of toxicity if you start giving iron to goats. So, I think it’s great that this study was done, and we actually have some hard data now that compares animals that were given Red Cell in the same pasture with animals that were not given Red Cell but given the same dewormer. So, thank you so much for taking part in this research.

Joan Burke 11:10
Yeah. And, one exception of, you know, not necessarily doing anything after deworming is, if animals have diarrhea or especially strongyloides… Strongyloides is kind of a different parasite—the parasite that invades the skin. In that case, we’ve had problems when we’ve dewormed animals with a strongyloides infection. They had severe diarrhea. We had some death loss. So, with that particular parasite—and maybe this might be another podcast. But, with that particular parasite, giving an antioxidant such as vitamin E or something like Nutri-Drench—and I don’t mean to promote one product over another, but something like that—along with the dewormer will help the antioxidant status of the animal to recover better. So, that’s my only exception on when you would give something in addition to the dewormer.

Deborah Niemann 12:01
Okay. Just for that one specific worm?

Joan Burke 12:04

Deborah Niemann 12:05
Okay. That’s so interesting. Well, thank you so much for joining us today! I think a lot of people are gonna find this helpful, and probably save some money.

Joan Burke 12:13
Okay! You’re welcome, Deborah.

Deborah Niemann 12:15
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!

Red Cell for Goats

8 thoughts on “Red Cell for Goats: Study Examines Its Effectiveness”

    • Based upon the results of this study, you don’t need to use it. I personally have never used it, even with goats that were very anemic from worms.

  1. Don’t give Red Cell to your goats until you investigate thet way iron can block copper intake. It took me some time
    to get my older goats fully recovered after giving them Red Cell.

  2. From the study:
    “Perhaps a higher dose, more than one dose, or use of an injectable product may have resulted in different responses in this study. ”

    One dose of Red Cell doesn’t do anything, we already know that.

    For a super anemic goat with a poor FAMACHA score (that you know is from barber pole worms), Red Cell has to be given daily for weeks, or until their eye membrane color is back to normal. The dosage people use is 6 cc per 100 lbs. That is ideally along with the other anemia treatments (protein, injected B12, etc).

    “Yeah, exactly. It’s like, goats do not need extra iron in their diet unless they are severely anemic”

    That’s true, you only give Red Cell if they need it.

    • They used 30 ml of Red Cell, which is 5x what you mention. That did not increase the PCV at all, and based on how much iron is in there, you would have expected it to have increased the PCV above the control group that got nothing. The goal was not necessarily a complete recovery — just to see if it made a difference, which it did not. That’s why they only studied the effect of Red Cell. If they had added other things that you mention, then you wouldn’t know what created any effect that might have occurred. When doing studies, it’s important to not have conflicting variables so that you know what causes what.

      If you are treating only one animal and are not doing PCVs, then you don’t really know what’s going on, and if the Red Cell really made a difference or not. I’ve never used Red Cell, and I’ve had goats get pink eyelids again within a few days. I had one buck that took three weeks. White eyelids only tell you that the PCV is less than 17. If it’s only down to 15 or 16, they can recover quickly. But if it’s down to 10 or less, they could die or take weeks to recover. Really in those situations you should have a blood transfusion for best results.

      This still needs to be studied in more depth. Although you’ve used higher levels, there are people who swear that it works when using only 2-3 cc for a few days, so there really is no consensus, and obviously those people are victims of the placebo effect. Dosing is all over the place.

      • I think that the size of the dose doesn’t matter since they only gave it one time. I just don’t see that having a huge impact on the goat. I don’t have proof of that but I know I wouldn’t rely on one huge dose for anemia treatment.

        Yes I agree about the variables.

        And yes I totally agree if the goat is really weak from anemia a blood transfusion is probably their only chance at recovery.

        But yeah I don’t think this study accurately tests the effectiveness of Red Cell.


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