Urinary Calculi in Goats

Episode 86
For the Love of Goats

Urinary Calculi in Goats featured image

Most people think that avoiding urinary calculi in male goats is as easy as balancing the calcium and phosphorus ratio, but that’s only the beginning.

We are talking to Dr. Robert VanSaun, professor of veterinary science and extension veterinarian at Penn State University, about all of the different types of urinary stones, what causes them, how to prevent them, and how to treat them.

Balancing calcium and phosphorus is only helpful for preventing struvite stones, and that may not even be helpful if the goat simply has too much phosphorus in the diet.

In addition to struvite stones, goats can wind up with calcium stones from consuming too much calcium, and unlike struvite stones, calcium stones cannot be prevented or treated by adding ammonium chloride to the goat’s diet.

If you live in the western US, you may see more silica stones if your goats are consuming grasses that are high in silica.

This is a must-listen episode for anyone who has male goats, whether they are intact or not.

Other episodes with Dr. Robert VanSaun

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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 0:16
Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s episode. We are once again joined by Dr. Robert Van Saun, professor of veterinary science and extension veterinarian at Penn State University. And, we are tackling another nutrition topic, and today it is about urinary calculi. In simple terms, urinary stones that can form in goats. And it’s a lot more complicated than most people realize. So, welcome back, Dr. Van Saun.

Robert Van Saun 0:45
Thank you, Deborah. Glad to be back again.

Deborah Niemann 0:48
So, do you want to first just kind of talk a little bit about what exactly is urinary calculi, or urinary stones, or whatever?

Robert Van Saun 0:56
Yeah, let’s. This is a very complicated topic, and one that we could certainly spend a lot of time discussing. And certainly, it’s also an extremely important health concern in our goats. And goats aren’t the only animals that are affected by this—even dogs and cats and sheep and so on. One thing is, it’s predominantly a disease of males. So, whether they’re an intact male—a breeding buck—or a wether, those are the primary affected animals. The female generally doesn’t get into the clinical signs of urinary calculi, just because of the differences in anatomy of the urethra, which is the tube that channels urine from the urinary bladder on out to the exterior of the body.

So, let’s go back and start: If we think about the urinary system, basically, the kidneys are where blood is filtered, and the things that the body doesn’t want, or has in excess, gets filtered through the kidneys. And then there are tubes—just extensive tubular system—within the kidneys that concentrate urine depending on how much water the animal is drinking. So, that’s a key thing to remember. You’re going to hear me talk about water a couple times. And, providing fresh water all the time is so essential to trying to prevent urinary calculi. So, what happens is, mineral content that is in excess of what the body needs gets filtered by the kidneys. And then, depending on the water intake, this may get concentrated. And then, this all comes down to the urinary bladder, where urine is held until the animal goes through the process of expressing their bladder to take all of the urine out.

Now, in humans, we can get what we call “kidney stones;” we can get these mineral concretions, is what they are. And, they’ll form in what’s called the “renal pelvis.” This is where all the tubules come together in the kidney. And kidney stones are quite painful. But, what we have typically in our goats is bladder stones. All right? So, they’re not forming in the kidneys. What’s happening is that urine is sitting in the bladder, the saturated or the dissolved mineral become saturated, and then it precipitates for some reason—and we’ll go into the different reasons—and forms calculus. And what happens in the male, because of the length of the urethra and the sigmoid flexure that takes place in the urethra, as well as what’s called the “vermiform appendage”—that’s that little worm-looking appendage at the very end of the penis of the male. Those are the primary sites of blockage.

And so what happens is, depending on the severity of the blockage, it could be partially blocked, so the animal struggles to urinate and can’t have a good stream; or could be completely blocked, and then the animal will be wanting to try and pee many times throughout the day, will vocalize quite a bit from the pain, and the bladder will just continue to enlarge to the point where it could rupture. And then the animal may actually act normal for a short period of time, but then they end up succumbing to uremia, or, you know, excess urine—the nitrogen compound urea in the body there. So, that’s why this is such a challenging issue.

So, two important things. One is overfeeding a mineral that saturates and precipitate in urine. Two is the pH in which the calculus can form. Most of the calculi form in what we call “alkaline” urine. And most forage-feeding animals have alkaline urine, because of the high potassium in their urine. And then, we need what we call a nidus—something to allow the mineral, the saturated mineral, to start to grow upon. This would be, like, if anybody remembers… I don’t know if they still do this. But, I remember back in my middle school years, in science class, we would make a saturated solution, and then you drop something into that solution, and all of a sudden, it crystallizes. And so, what you drop in there is this nidus that allows the mineral to start to build itself around that. Now, in our animals that nidus could be sloughed cells; it could be bacteria from a bacterial infection. So, those are some common issues.

Deborah Niemann 6:38
It’s really great that you started out by talking about the importance of them having enough water, because I know when I was new to goats, people said, “You got to make sure they always have clean water available,” and to change your buckets twice a day, regardless. Because I thought, “Oh, that’s ridiculous.” And I remember sometimes, at night, you know, I would look in the stall when I let them into the barn and be like, “Oh, the bucket is three-quarters full. I’m not gonna dump that and refill it.” And then I’d come back in in the morning, and it was still three-quarters full.

Robert Van Saun 7:07

Deborah Niemann 7:08
Like, they didn’t want to drink it. And whereas, if I would have dumped it and refilled it like, okay, so we’re gonna go from full down to three-quarters. So, if you feel like you’re dumping a lot of what you think is clean water, you know, just get a smaller bucket. You know, we started with 5-gallon buckets when we only had a few goats. And then, you know, we switched to 2-gallon buckets. But they really do not like to drink dirty water. And, if a goat poops in the water, that is… That’s done. Nobody is going to drink that. And that’s what… We learned that the hard way. When we were on milk test, the first time we did it, we only had three or four goats. And so, there was one bucket of water in there. We came in in the morning to do milk test, and everybody’s production was really low. There was poop in the bucket. And it was still full. So, like, somebody had pooped in there first thing last night. So, nobody drank any water overnight. You know, and as I always said to my girls when they were home and helping, it was like, “These girls can’t make milk out of air.”

Robert Van Saun 8:09
That’s right. That’s right.

Deborah Niemann 8:10
You gotta have water.

Robert Van Saun 8:14
Milk is about 87% water. So yeah. Yeah. So, this urinary calculi disease, there’s many names in the feedlot cattle industry. It’s called “water belly.” You can see some edema, and even crystals on the hairs of the prepuce of the males that are affected. “Urolithiasis” is the technical or scientific medical term for this, where we have the stones blocking.

Now, where this really gets complicated. So, we’ve already highlighted one thing, is water is an important issue here. We have to get animals to drink water. And you would think goats are pretty much… You know, they came from more tropical environments. So, you would think that they were much better at water management. But, as you just said, you know, when lactating animals and so on, they have a huge water requirement to meet that. Now, granted, lactating females are not going to have a problem. It’s the males that are the issue. So, how do we get animals to drink more water? Well, the few things that you said there in terms of keeping the water fresh, making sure nobody poops in it, or there’s no dirty water, or anything like that. The other—and this is a thing that many people have done—is salt. Salt drives water intake. So, ensuring that they have salt available, even to the point of taking saltwater and spraying it on hay, so that they get more salt directly.

Now, the other important thing I said was the nidus. Something has to allow the supersaturated urine, the mineral content in the urine, to start to precipitate and form the calculi. One of the big issues in our ruminant species is vitamin A deficiency. So, vitamin A is necessary for skin health and skin development into the proper epithelial cell form for the given organ. So, in the bladder, the epithelium is what we call “transition epithelium.” It’s either a small, square-type cell or a tall, rectangular-type cell. However, when they’re vitamin A deficient, that epithelium turns into the same kind of epithelium that our skin is made out of. And, our skin slough cells all the time. And so, when you get little parts of what’s called “stratified squamous epithelium” that can slough cells, that then allow the crystals to form in the bladder. The other primary cause of a nidus is just bacteria that may naturally be in the bladder, or from, you know, an infection in the bladder, or infection of the urethra, or something along those lines.

So finally, the bigger issue, then, is what kind of calculi—what kind of crystals—can form. And, that’s where urinary calculi gets very complex, because there’s a wide range of crystals. The most common crystal in our goats, especially growing goats, where you’re feeding a fair amount of grain to grow, or during mating for the bucks, is a crystal called “struvite.” Struvite is S-T-R-U-V-I-T-E. What struvite is, it’s made up of three compounds; it’s magnesium, nitrogen as ammonia, and phosphorus. So, where this becomes a problem is high-phosphorus feedings relative to calcium. So, this is where you hear all the time, you should maintain at least a 2-to-1 calcium to phosphorus ratio in the diet of the male goats, to ensure that you’re not going to have excess phosphorus being filtered by the kidneys, and then supersaturated phosphorus in the urine that will precipitate out—because you’re always going to have some ammonia from urea, and magnesium, because that’s the only way the animal gets rid of magnesium. So, it’s the phosphorus that’s really the key issue.

Now, struvite forms only in alkaline urine. So, high-potassium diets will result in alkalizing the urine, so that’s something that we want to watch. So, we often associate struvite with grain feeding, because corn and most of our cereal grains are very low in calcium, but very high in phosphorus. Usually, there’s some kind of buffer put in, because we don’t want acidosis. And so, that buffer actually causes alkalization of the urine, too. So, this is why it turns out, fortunately, that struvite is easily solubilized in acidic conditions. And so, this is the rationale, or why in almost all grain mixes that you buy for sheep and goats, it has ammonium chloride in it. Ammonium chloride, the chloride actually causes an acidification of the urine. And we do the same thing in cats, in terms of male cats and trying to prevent blocked male cats.

Now, that’s the simple one. The next big issue in terms of calculi are calcium stones, and these are usually associated with high alfalfa feeding. And I think a lot depends on the breed of goat. The Nigerian Dwarf goats seem to be much more prone to calcium problems than to the struvite, but that’s not exclusive. Calcium stones can be calcium phosphate, calcium oxalate, calcium carbonate stones, and again, it’s just overfeeding calcium. Now, alcohol in urine generally is a cause for the precipitation. However, unlike struvite, acidic conditions will not prevent or break down the calcium stone. So, those calcium stones don’t dissolve very well. So, that’s the problem. And this gets into another whole quagmire of forages, because, like, some forages of weeds that… If your goats are grazing, and, you know, in a pasture, and you have various weeds, there are some plants that have high soluble oxalates. And so, if they eat these plants—like pigweed and some others, lamb’s quarter—they could get enough oxalates. And if they’re eating, you know, a high-calcium diet with some alfalfa, they could actually cause some calcium oxalate stones.

There’s also another common stone that we see in ruminants, is silica stones. And we’re fortunate here, east of the Mississippi, our grasses do not contain very high silica content, but most of the western grasses do. And so, when I was out in Oregon, we saw a lot more silica stones than struvite. We see a lot more struvite and calcium stones here in the east.

Deborah Niemann 16:24
Wow, that’s fascinating. So, you mentioned about having ammonium chloride in the grains to prevent the struvite stones. One of the things that I’ve seen sometimes is people talking about giving goats ammonium chloride—a drench—if they have stones, and I’ve always really wondered. I’m like, “Okay, hold it. If you know they have stones, that means they’re already causing problems.” So, can ammonium chloride act that fast to dissolve a stone that’s actually blocking a goat?

Robert Van Saun 16:54
If the situation is such where the blockage is only a minor, partial blockage, so that the goat isn’t, you know, distraught and trying to, you know, have what we call “dysuria”—difficult urination or bleeding or anything like that. The drenching of ammonium chloride… Ammonium Chloride is not very palatable. So, that’s one of the challenges we have. But, the drenching ammonium chloride will actually change the pH in that urine within about 48 hours. And so, as long as the goat is still passing some urine, you could potentially start to dissolve some of those struvite crystals, because they are extremely sensitive to the pH. There is a a solution called “Walpole,” W-A-L-P-O-L-E, which is sort of a diluted acidic solution. And, if an animal is totally blocked, veterinarians may take that and actually put in a catheter through the abdomen and flush that into the bladder, and that will help dissolve the stones right there. And then, they’ll keep a balloon catheter there that comes out of the abdomen, but in the bladder, and flush that until they can get things straightened out.

Deborah Niemann 18:17
Okay. Before we talk more about treatments, are there any other types of stones that you wanted to discuss?

Robert Van Saun 18:24
Those are really the big ones in terms of ruminant species. In our non-ruminant species—you know, our dogs and cats—you know, we have urate crystals and cystine crystals and others. But more often than not, I would say 98% of the crystals in our goats are either going to be the calcium carbonate, calcium oxalate, calcium phosphate, or struvite. Or a blend. Sometimes you can get a blend, a mixture.

Deborah Niemann 18:58
Okay. So, in terms of preventing this, I feel like everybody on Facebook is like, “Oh, all you have to do is, if you’re feeding them grain, you just have to give them alfalfa to balance the phosphorus, and they won’t get stones.” And it’s just… It’s so much more complicated than that, right? Obviously, like, everything you’ve told us already. There’s different kinds of stones…

Robert Van Saun 19:22
Right. So, you know, if they feed alfalfa, you know, that can help with the calcium. But depending on the type of alfalfa, and what the oxalate concentration is, or even the calcium concentration, that could have some impact. Alfalfa is also going to be very high in potassium. So, that can add to the alkalization. You know, so it’s this combination.

So really, to me, the key things: We want to maintain a higher salt intake on our animals. So usually, in diets of animals that are at high risk, we’ll increase the salt content much higher than what we normally would. Always have fresh water. as we’ve highlighted. Make sure the vitamin A in the diet is appropriate. And then, balance our calcium and phosphorus so that they’re not below 2-to-1, but also not much higher than about 2-1/2- to 3-to-1. And then, if we can, try and control the potassium or alkalizing effects of what’s in the diet. I mean, those are the main points that we go through in trying to minimize urinary calculi in our goats.

Deborah Niemann 20:39
Okay. It’s funny, because just, like, a couple days ago, somebody was thinking of switching goat feeds. And she noticed the goat that she was thinking of switching to had a higher salt content. And, she asked me if that was a problem. And it was a very popular goat feed, which I know tons of people have sold, and I’m like, “It’s a great goat feed. I wouldn’t worry that the salt content is higher.” In minerals, I know most minerals have lots of salt in them. Like, at least 15% or so. I always kind of felt like once a mineral goes beyond 30% or 40%, it’s more salt than minerals. But it sounds like we shouldn’t really be worried about them getting too much salt for any reason other than how it’s going to drive their mineral consumption. Like, if they get salt from other sources, they may not eat enough of their mixed minerals.

Robert Van Saun 21:30
Right. And that’s an important point. So, as we probably discussed in previous discussions here, if we’re trying to formulate a trace mineral program for our goats, and we’re using a salt-based, free-choice mineral, if we have other salt sources out there, then, you know, the goat is only going to eat the salt; it doesn’t know that it needs to eat the salt that has the trace minerals in it. And so, that’s where we can get into problems. If you do some of the things that we’ve already discussed today, like adding kind of a saltwater spray onto your forage to ensure that they’re getting enough salt to drive the water intake, yeah, probably what’s going to happen, is they’re going to back off on any salt-based mineral product. And so, you know, everything sort of has its consequences.

Deborah Niemann 22:26
And then, one thing a lot of people mistake is that they see a goat that’s, like, arching its back, and they think it’s constipated. And this was one of things I learned very early on. Like, one of the very first things I remember seeing in the Yahoo Group is, a woman’s goat died from a urinary stone, because she saw him arching his back and thought, “Oh, he’s trying to poop.” And, in reality, he had a bladder stone. And so, other than that, are there any other symptoms that people would know that their goat has a problem with this?

Robert Van Saun 23:01
Well, again, we might see some crystals on the hairs of the prepuce of the goat. You would want to see if that goat is attempting to urinate multiple times, and if he vocalizes during the urination. Certainly the arching of the back, that’s one of the issues, is they try and strain to urinate. So, you need to be very careful, misinterpreting that as just constipation. You should be able to see the goat passing the fecal pellets. And if that’s the case, and they’re arching their back, then more likely than not—if it’s a male—it’s going to be urinary calculi problems.

Deborah Niemann 23:46
Yeah. Because, I think we think of bucks stretching out to pee—which is where you can get a lot of really great photos of your bucks. But, a lot of them also arch their back when they’re trying to urinate directionally.

Robert Van Saun 23:59
Yep. Yep.

Deborah Niemann 23:59
Especially in the fall. So, when somebody first told me that bucks pee on their face, I had a really hard time imagining that until I saw it. And it’s like, yes, they do that by arching their back.

Robert Van Saun 24:12
Yeah. So, another thing to think about is, even though we know, kind of, the underlying issues with urinary calculi in the male and why we just continue to have these, is even though we understand the principles, being able to apply these appropriately is a little more of a challenge. So, for example—I don’t want to delve into this too deep. But, the addition of ammonium chloride in the diets of goats to try and help with calculi is using the same principle of what we call “dietary cation-anion difference,” which is what we use in dairy cows to prevent milk fever. And so, what we do is, we have a balance between the cations—which is sodium and potassium—versus the anions. The anions are chloride and sulfur. So, the cations have a positive charge; anions have a negative charge. When the negative charges predominate, you cause acidification. When the positive charges predominate, you cause alkalization. So, this is why we want to try and reduce the potassium load… Now, when we add sodium chloride, we’re adding both positive and negative charge, so that’s neutral. But, if we added bicarb, or acidosis, then we would cause alkalization, because we’re adding a lot of sodium without chloride.

Now the problem is, is in dairy cows, we calculate the DCAD to make it come up negative. And that’s how we get the effect. In goats, nobody does that. Nobody accounts for the total diet. We just are set in putting a half-percent of ammonium chloride in our grain. And when I’ve done the calculations on many diets, totally lacking any function, because it’s not enough to counter the positive charges in that diet. And, if we add more ammonium chloride, it’s not very palatable. So then, the goat owners complain that the goats aren’t eating it.

So, something that we’re looking into now is, there are many acidifying products in the dairy cattle world. There’s a thing like SoyChlor, BIO-CHLOR, Animate. These are all protein sources that are treated with hydrochloric acid. And they are very, very efficient in inducing the acidosis state and causing urinary acidosis, or your low urine pH. And so, there are some people out there that are actually using these dairy cow products rather than the traditional sort of ammonium chloride. You know, ammonium chloride has kind of worked into the realm of sheep and goat nutrition as an absolute. You know? But, now that we’ve done all the work on the dairy cattle side, we can actually use the same principles and formulate diets that are going to actually cause the appropriate changes in urinary pH.

Deborah Niemann 27:48
One of the questions that I get a lot of times from people is about how much grain, or how long can you feed grain, before you have to worry. Because, I think a lot of people know that they should not feed their bucks grain, because of the risk of this. But, during breeding season, they can start to lose weight. Or, if they have a heavy parasite load, you want to give him some extra protein so they can rebuild that muscle. So, you know, like, is this something for people to worry about if they are only going to be giving their buck grain for a month or two? Or, do you really just see stone formation after many months of feeding grain?

Robert Van Saun 28:24
Well, you can actually see stone formation fairly quickly—within a couple of weeks—if they’re on an inappropriate diet. So, it’s just important than if they are going to feed grain… I don’t want people to be worried about feeding grain, right? Feeding grain is appropriate. You know, all the reasons that you just gave in terms of providing extra energy and/or protein for those animals to keep them healthy and working hard. It’s just that, we have to remember that, you know, the grain has got to have some calcium carbonate in it. You know, it’s got to have some limestone of some sort in with the grain. And, most of the commercial grains do have that.

Where we get into trouble—and I’m a little worried about this, as I’ve looked at many products recently—is because of costs. And, of course, our feed costs are going to just go astronomical this year with the droughts that are going on and everything else. So, a lot of the feed mills are going to be probably using alternative byproduct feeds in their commercial products. And, a lot of these byproduct feeds—like distillers grains, wheat bran, soy hulls, and so on—are very high in phosphorus. And so, what I’m seeing is, even though they add calcium, the phosphorus is way higher than what the requirement is. So, even though the calcium and phosphorus is in balance—right? The 2-to -1, the fact that we’re way overfeeding phosphorus can result in calculi.

And, I have a sheep farm in Pennsylvania that that’s exactly what was happening to them. And, we had to go back to the feed mill and back off. They had the phosphorus up in the range of… Oh my gosh, it was like, .8, .85. And this was a complete pellet, where they weren’t feeding any grain. And, even though they had a 2-to-1 ratio, calcium to phosphorus, that was just way too much phosphorus, and all their young male lambs were getting urinary calculi. And many of them died.

Deborah Niemann 30:05
Wow, that’s incredible! I’m so glad you mentioned that. Because, I’ve never heard anybody say that. Like, you know, it’s just all about like, “Oh, as long as you’ve got the calcium and phosphorus balanced, you’re good.” But like, “No.” You can feed too much.

Robert Van Saun 30:55
You know, it goes back again to the original work done in trying to correct milk fever in dairy cows, where they focused on the calcium-phosphorus ratio, in the 1940s and 1950s. And, what we found out is, if we just add more phosphorus, or you know, manipulate it that way, and we overfeed the amounts, we still cause the problem. And so, that’s where nutrition gets a little more challenging in that, yes, ratios are important, but really, the critical, important point is: How much over the requirement are they getting?

Deborah Niemann 31:39
Yeah. Wow! This is such a fascinating conversation today. So, if somebody winds up with a buck that, obviously, he has a problem—like, he’s straining to urinate, if there’s drops coming out—like, maybe somebody could try to treat with something like ammonium chloride. Although, you don’t know that it’s struvite stones, and if it’s calcium—

Robert Van Saun 31:59
That’s right.

Deborah Niemann 32:00
—that’s not going to help. So really, if somebody’s got a buck that’s having trouble urinating—well, a doe, too, but… Because they can have other reasons for having trouble urinating.

Robert Van Saun 32:11

Deborah Niemann 32:11
Like, if a goat is having trouble urinating, like, you really should take him to the vet and find out what’s going on.

Robert Van Saun 32:17
Yeah, this is one of those diseases that, you know, you don’t want to try the apple cider vinegar, or you know, the cranberry juice, and all of those kind of homeopathic-type approaches, because this is a critical disease. This will get serious in a very rapid way. And then, you’re either going to have to invest a tremendous amount of money into surgeries and things like that, or you’re gonna lose the animal. So, this is one of those emergency situations that really need need to have veterinary input.

Deborah Niemann 32:52
Yeah. And, like, I started to correct myself after I said “a buck” was having trouble, because I actually had a doe once who had trouble urinating. She would squat, and scream, and just drops would come out. And, I took her to the vet right away. And it was because her uterus had completely filled up with fluid and was putting so much pressure against her bladder that she couldn’t pee. So—

Robert Van Saun 32:54
Yeah. Well, does can pass fairly large stones. Matter of fact, I did not see this, but I’ve heard of this. And I think… I’m trying to remember if I saw a picture of it. But, somebody actually had a mare—a female horse—pass a stone a size of a hardball.

Deborah Niemann 33:39
Oh, wow.

Robert Van Saun 33:40
Yeah. Yeah, the female urethra can expand quite a bit. But the other problem is, other components of the female anatomy can cause problems. Like the uterus. Or, you can have, you know, some kind of trauma in the vaginal wall that can affect the urethra, and you can have some other issues there. Or, you can have, you know, entrapment of the bladder or things like that. But, males seem to take the cake when it comes to crystals forming and blocking their extended urethra.

Deborah Niemann 34:18
Well, is there anything else that people need to know about urinary calculi before we wrap up today?

Robert Van Saun 34:24
Well, again, I can’t emphasize enough that it is an emergency type thing. Just like a blocked male cat. You know, I mean, those are emergencies; they have to come in and see the vet. And they can use a needle to take a sample of urine from the bladder—that distended bladder. They can empty the bladder, so that the animal is more comfortable. But, we can put that urine under the microscope and look at crystals, and we can tell from the crystal shapes what kind of stones we might be dealing with, and then that can help direct how we would go ahead about treating the animal.

But again, just to kind of reiterate the main things is, you know, with struvite, if we focus on struvite, we want to make sure we provide sufficient salt—or higher salt—in the diet. Lots of clean, fresh water. Make sure vitamin A is appropriately supplemented. And watch our diets, not only for calcium-phosphorus ratio, but the total amount of phosphorus that’s in the diet.

Deborah Niemann 35:31
This has been so fascinating today. I know I will be listening to this episode more than a couple of times, because there’s so much great information here. Thank you very much for joining us today!

Robert Van Saun 35:42
You’re welcome.

Deborah Niemann 35:45
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 ForTheLoveOfGoats.com, and you can follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next time. Bye for now!

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9 thoughts on “Urinary Calculi in Goats”

  1. This was very interesting and informative, but I wish you guys would have gone into and talked a little bit more about what is higher in vitamin A that’s appropriate to give to help aid in the prevention of urinary calculus.
    Love the podcasts though!

    • Vitamin A deficiency in goats is rare because everything green is high in vitamin A. If goats are on pasture, they get lots of vitamin A, assuming you are not in the middle of a drought and your pasture has turned brown. Vitamin A deficiency is more likely to happen in the middle of winter when goats are on 100% hay diet, if the hay was left out in the sun too long after being cut and before baling. This is why it’s important to buy hay that’s green, not brown. The outside of a bale may be brown if it was baled weeks ago, but if you cut the bale open, the inside should be green.

      If you have a problem where you can’t find any good hay (because of drought or other conditions), then you can supplement with hay pellets. Orange food like pumpkin are quite high in vitamin A, but if you do that, I’d suggest just cutting the pumpkin in half and letting them scrape off what they can. If you give them chunks of something like pumpkin or carrot, it can cause choking. Goats are not accustomed to eating chunks, and if they try to swallow a chunk that’s too big, it can get caught in their throat and cause choking and possible death.

  2. Great podcast. I have been making little ammonium chloride “pills” for my wethers. They each get 1/4 tsp per day in a formula of peanut butter, molasses. Can you comment on this?

    • I asked Dr. VanSaun about this, and he said …

      We did address this issue but not directly. There is a standing recommendation that ammonium chloride should be incorporated into the grain mix at 0.5%. The problem with this recommendation is it does not account for dietary variation in the cation-anion difference and the impact this has on urinary pH. As we discussed, the concept of dietary cation-anion difference, abbreviated as DCAD, is commonly used in dairy cattle as a method of preventing hypocalcemia. The science behind this is sodium (Na+) and potassium (K+) ions induce a change in blood pH to the alkaline side (> 7.0 pH). In contrast chloride (Cl-) and sulfate (SO4–) ions induce a change in blood pH to the acidic side (< 7.0 pH). As we discussed, most forages fed to goats have higher potassium thus goats most often have an alkaline pH to their urine (8-8.5 pH). This is conducive to allowing the struvite crystals to form. When we add ammonium chloride we need to add more chloride than Na+ and K+ ions to induce the acidic change to the urine. So, the amount of ammonium chloride needed will be dependent upon the dietary composition relative to sodium and potassium. Now sodium from salt is not an issue as we discussed we want the animal to consume more salt to increase water intake. I would have to measure the weight of ¼ tsp of ammonium chloride but my thought is it would not be enough especially on a moderate potassium forage. Molasses is high in potassium, peanut butter is not. Yes, one can administer too much ammonium chloride and induce metabolic acidosis. The goat will stop eating at that point. A good way to determine if the ammonium chloride is sufficient is to measure urine pH. To protect against crystals pH needs to be less than 7.5 but not lower than 6.0.

      So, if you really want to be safe, get some pH test strips and check the boys’ urine — and stop giving them molasses.

  3. Wonderful information!! Thank you so much!
    I watch all of my animals tinkle when I get the chance. Even the horses and bunny. The appropriate color and thickness of urine is a great indicator of general health, and can be an early red flag for possibly troubles.

  4. Hi! We are new goat owners. We recently acquired a buck (1 year old) and wether (10 months old) who were eating hay, loose minerals, and grain. We have continued the diet the goats were on in the short term.

    We have extremely hard well water here. I am not sure how this weighs into the goats’ calcium- phosphorus ratio. I read to offer hay, minerals and kelp if you have hard water. But I’ve also read kelp can throw that ratio off too so I don’t know what to do. We could also put a softener on the hose at the barn to try to counteract the hard water? I’m confused! Any advice is greatly appreciated!! Thank you!!

    • Hi Erin!
      There is no need to feed grain to male goats that have reached 50% or more of their adult weight. When they are actively growing, they use up all the extra nutrients in a rich hay, such as alfalfa and that of grain. Once they stop rapid growth, those extra nutrients are not utilized and can predispose them to urinary calculi.
      At this point, all they need is a plain grass hay, loose goat minerals, plenty of fresh clean water, and natural forage.
      I would not be concerned about calcium in water creating an issue for them, but if it is concerning to you, you could rig up a system to collect rain water or use the hose softener that you suggested.
      The only thing high enough in kelp to effectively make a difference in actual nutrient supplementation for a goat is iodine. So unless you have iodine deficiency, I wouldn’t worry about continuing the kelp. And I’ve not seen any research on it helping to balance hard water. It would need a really high concentration of a mineral that binds with calcium or prevents it’s uptake, and minerals other than iodine, are pretty minimal.
      Here are a couple of links to some more info for you 🙂



  5. I’m not sure if you have written on goats on dry lot (backyard, not commercial) and how to feed them. If you haven’t, would you, please. It is exceedingly difficult to find any information on the requirements for that situation. When you post (written or audio) can you also delineate between dwarf, mini and full size and between buck and doe, dry and lactating and kid and adult to be specific about certain things such as serving sizes (food or meds). Sometimes, I’m not sure whether you’re speaking about just dwarfs perhaps unconsciously or full sized or…. Some things are so very confusing as I’ve heard that you can feed goats (as in ALL, from babies to adults, both male and female, to NEVER feed grains to males or dry females no matter age). The matter is compounded when it is from reputable and successful breeders from both sides. Perhaps the problem lies with not being specific enough and taking into consideration all the variables such as listed above. Having someone taking dry lot into consideration would be extremely helpful as I can imagine I’m not the only one who has milk goats with no pasture.
    Also, do does need ammonium chloride or just bucks. It sounded as if it wasn’t an issue with bucklings either. Am I correct?
    ….Thanks you for your informative articles.

    • Hello
      I believe this article will answer many of your questions –

      There is no difference nutritionally between small and standard size. The difference comes with what we or nature is asking the goat to do.
      For instance- if we are milking, then we should be sure to provide enough combined pasture, hay, grain to keep the goat in optimal body condition.
      A dry doe does not need the same concentrated nutrition as one in milk, so she should be able to maintain appropriate body condition on grass hay (or grass hay and pasture) without need for alfalfa hay or grain.
      “Never” is the wrong word to use when talking about goat nutrition in general. We must look at each animal and decipher what their overall condition is telling us. For instance- mature males should not be fed grain routinely because of their higher risk for stone formation/blockage. But, if you have a buck in heavy rut that has significant weight loss or perhaps is sick with a very high worm load, increasing his protein in the form of grain or a higher protein hay for a short period of time may be appropriate.
      The one thing that I can think of with regard to dry lotting, is to be sure the hay they are receiving is nice and green and always available free choice. This insures availability of micronutrients they would be getting by eating green vegetation on pasture and keeps their rumen busy. A good loose goat mineral is also extremely important, but should still be paired with green hay.
      Amounts on your 16% goat grain- again, this will typically be reserved for your milkers and growing kids. It should be fed according to milk production for milkers. Typically 1# of grain for every 3-4# of milk produced. Growing kids typically receive 1-1.5% of body weight. These portion suggestions are usually found on the feed tag.
      I hope that you find this helpful


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