When a goat has a runny nose or cough, people often assume it has a respiratory infection or lungworms. But those symptoms could be caused by something as simple as dust from hay or living on a gravel road. Ammonia buildup in a barn, as well as smoke or exhaust from machinery, can also cause coughing and runny noses in goats.
Treating respiratory issues caused by environmental factors will be a waste of time, as they will not go away until the environmental problem is corrected. This is why barns should not be insulated. In fact, we keep a door open year round unless we are in the midst of a blizzard with blowing snow.
A goat can develop a runny nose following any type of injury to the bones in the head, such as disbudding, a damaged horn, an infected tooth, or a cracked bone in the face.
Something as simple as a tight collar can cause coughing in goats. If a goat starts to cough only when being led by the collar, the problem is not illness in the goat. Holding a collar too tightly can restrict a goat’s airflow resulting in the goat falling to its knees. This is not an uncommon sight at goat shows when someone is showing a goat that hasn’t been trained to lead or simply does not like to lead.
There are many types of pneumonia in goats, and in spite of how common it is, it can be a challenge to diagnose and treat. It can be caused by parasites, fungus, and a long list of viruses and bacteria. Treatment with antibiotics may or may not be effective, depending on what is causing the pneumonia. Sometimes pneumonia can be a symptom of a much larger problem, especially when occurring with stillbirths and abortions.
A kid with pneumonia may cough or have a runny nose, but the only symptoms in adults may be lethargy and going off feed. You may hear rattling in the lungs or base of the throat by using a stethoscope. A stethoscope is inexpensive to purchase and can be used to familiarize yourself with the sound of healthy goat lungs for comparison. Although a goat with pneumonia will usually have an elevated fever, a temperature below normal is even more of a concern because that means its body is starting to shut down and it is near death.
Inhalation pneumonia will appear in a goat after being drenched with medication that accidentally goes into the windpipe instead of down the throat. It may also happen when a goat throws up, which they do so rarely that some sources say goats don’t vomit. However, when a goat does vomit, it is usually because it has consumed something poisonous. A kid born with a cleft palate can develop pneumonia from aspirating milk.
Determining the cause of a cough in goats or respiratory ailment can be tricky, and if the goat has a fever of 104°F or more, is off feed, or lethargic, call the vet. If antibiotics were recommended and you have been treating a goat for 48 hours and are not seeing improvement, the antibiotic is not working. You might need a different antibiotic, or the cause of the pneumonia is a virus, which won’t respond to antibiotics. If you have seen an improvement, it is recommended that you continue treatment for at least 48 hours after symptoms have disappeared. Stopping antibiotic therapy too early contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant bugs.
There are a number of different organisms that can cause pneumonia, and vaccines are only available for a couple of them. Even if you vaccinate for pneumonia, you still need to make sure your goats get plenty of fresh air and do as much as possible to create an environment that is not conducive to respiratory infections.
This is an excerpt from Raising Goats Naturally: The Complete Guide to Milk, Meat, and More, 2nd Revised Edition by Deborah Niemann.
If you want to learn more about pneumonia in goats, please listen to this podcast episode where I’m talking to Dr. Michael Pesato. 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.
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