Are Your Baby Goats Dying? Here’s What to Do

Baby goats die for a number of reasons

Baby goats can die for several different reasons, and there is nothing more demoralizing to a farmer or would-be homesteader than having newborn animals born only to have them languish and perish soon afterward. 

Here are some of the reasons baby goats die (and what to do about them): 

  • Disease and illness: Many diseases can afflict goats in the first few days of their lives and they are so vulnerable at this stage that they can perish quickly—keep them from dying by providing illness-specific treatments. 
  • Weak kid syndrome: Some goat kids are born weaker than others for a variety of reasons, and if they aren’t monitored carefully, the kids will die. Treat kids for exposure, constipation, and other issues as they occur to prevent this. 
  • Mineral and vitamin deficiencies: Baby goats require a wide variety of minerals and vitamins to live, and if these are not provided, the kids can die. Provide thiamine, selenium, and other supplements to prevent kids from succumbing.

The number of illnesses and complications that can strike baby goats when they are most delicate is substantial, and if animal caretakers don’t act fast, this can lead to the death of the baby goat in mere hours. 

Keep reading for an exploration of some of these common issues, and how you can treat your baby goats from the moment of birth to keep them alive and thriving. 

Baby Goat Diseases

Many kinds of diseases affect baby goats from the moment they’re born, and when they are in this fragile state, any illness no matter how minor can quickly lead to devastating results. Each of these diseases must be treated differently in order to save the kid. 

Coccidia

Coccidiosis is the number one cause of diarrhea in young goats, and diarrhea can lead rapidly to dehydration, malnutrition, and death. Coccidiosis is identified by weight loss and dark liquid diarrhea which may also contain blood and mucus. 

This disease is the result of microscopic protozoan parasites called coccidian that damage the intestinal linings of affected animals in their reproductive cycle, preventing nutritional uptake and leading to internal bleeding. 
Almost all farm animals carry coccidia in their gut flora, but it only becomes dangerous at certain levels and in vulnerable animals without established immune systems, such as baby goats.

Ways to prevent coccidiosis in baby goats: 

  • Use a medicated feed with a coccidiostat to prevent coccidiosis outbreaks. 
  • Treat with an oral solution of amprolium solution (a commonly found brand in farm supply stores is Corid) for five consecutive days. 
  • Preventative measures are best to prevent coccidiosis outbreaks and include animal husbandry practices such as removing manure regularly, not feeding goats on the ground, not letting goats jump into feeders, and sanitizing food/water troughs regularly. 

Enterotoxemia

Enterotoxemia is a condition seen in baby goats that is caused primarily by poor animal husbandry and management.  

Enterotoxemia is caused by overfeeding baby goats

It’s caused by overeating and is seen most frequently in baby goats that are “bottle babies” being bottle-fed by a handler, or in baby goats that are confined in close quarters with their mother, which does not allow the mother to move away from the baby and regulate milk intake.

Ways to prevent and treat enterotoxemia in baby goats:

  • Do not overfeed during bottle-feeding. Space feedings more frequently to decrease the amount of formula given at one time. Reduce the amount of formula given as the baby ages out. Overfeeding is just as bad as not feeding at all. 
  • Treatment includes subcutaneous injection of C&D antitoxin, milk of magnesia or mineral oil to push toxic feed out of the digestive system, activated charcoal to bind up toxins, sulfa antibiotics, and Banamine by muscular injection for pain. 
  • Vaccination of enterotoxemia is available specifically for goats and can help prevent toxicity in older baby goats. Goats should be vaccinated at 2-3 months of age and should receive a booster shot ideally every six months, but at least annually. 

Joint Ill / Navel Ill

Joint ill (or navel ill) is a systemic infection that attacks baby goats through their navel opening at the umbilical cord and infects the joints of the animal, leading to high fever, sepsis, and eventually death. This disease can also affect other young farm animals like baby chicks.

Joint ill is linked to both poor sanitary conditions in the birthing area as well as a lack of colostrum from the mother, which provides the natural antibiotics necessary for the immune system to fight off opportunistic bacterial infections. 

For treatment to be successful, joint ill must be addressed very quickly and aggressively. Not only is joint ill painful, it severely reduces the appetite, which can be deadly in and of itself in baby goats. 

To treat joint ill, culture-specific antibiotics are necessary–provide parenteral injections of antibiotics for a week and provide clean soft bedding. Joint massage can help reduce pain and discomfort. In commercial herds, humane euthanasia may be necessary for practicality. 

Worms 

A high parasite load of worms in baby goats can lead to weight loss, poor appetite, anemia, and death. The most damaging parasitic worm to most goat herds is the barberpole worm or Haemonchus contortus

extreme worms in goats can cause death

If worms are suspected, a fecal test should be done with a livestock veterinarian to determine which wormer should be selected for us. Do not throw a bunch of random wormers at a suspected parasite issue, as this is impractical and lengthens the course of treatment. 

Here are the steps necessary to prevent and treat worms in baby goats:

  • Deworm all baby goats before turning them out onto pasture. Their systems are still delicate and if they are infected with worms at an early age, it can lead to death. 
  • Deworm baby goats again 2-3 weeks after their first worming.
  • Rotate pastures with your goats to keep parasite loads down.  

Pneumonia

Pneumonia in baby goats can show up for a variety of reasons. Goats in general do not tolerate rapid changes in temperature, especially when they involve cold winds and rain or sleet/snow, or wet conditions combined with high daytime temperatures. 

Another cause of pneumonia in baby goats is aspiration pneumonia. This occurs most frequently when baby goats are bottle-fed. If this is done incorrectly, baby goats can accidentally get milk in their lungs, and this can lead to a bacterial infection and subsequent death. 

If the baby goat’s temperature decreases or it is down and cannot appear to stand, this is typically due to an accumulation of fluid in the lungs, and the animal is already close to death. 

Here are a few ways to prevent and treat pneumonia in baby goats:

  • Make sure that goats are well-sheltered in inclement weather with a three-sided shelter and have plenty of clean, dry straw for bedding. If bottle-feeding or drenching, take care when the goat’s tongue is out, the goat is bleating, or its head is tilted back very far. 
  • Determine the baby goat’s temperature via rectal thermometer to determine further treatment. A kid with reduced temperature will require different treatment than a kid that is running a high fever. 
  • Banamine can be used to reduce fever and inflammation, as well as reduce pain and discomfort. Respiratory antibiotics are required in order to combat the lung infection. 

Weak Kids

Sometimes baby goats, especially when newborn, fail to thrive for no discernible reason. This can result from a variety of reasons: exposure, lack of colostrum/poor feeding, or birth defects. 

It can also happen if the nanny has multiples, especially 3 or more kids and one of the kids can’t get enough milk. 

baby goats need minerals and vitamins to be healthy

You can help weak kids to fight for life by bottle feeding them to make sure that they get sufficient nutrients. If you choose to bottle feed a baby, you will pull the baby from the mamma so its not still competing for milk against the other kids. 

Exposure

Goats generally have a difficult time regulating their body temperature in comparison to other mammals, and this goes double for newborn kids that are still wet from their mother’s uterus or are born in inclement conditions. 

If the baby goat does not become warm, it will not be able to nurse, and will soon die from dehydration, hunger, and hypothermia. 

To prevent exposure in baby goats, make sure that babies are born in an area that is warm, dry, and completely protected from the elements, such as a proper stable. If a kid is already discovered hypothermic, here is a course of treatment to save their life: 

  • Immerse the baby goat in a large sink or bathtub of warm water, being careful to hold
    the head above water to avoid aspiration of water (which can cause pneumonia)
    or drowning.
  • When kids are hypothermic, they will not be easy to bottle-feed. Instead, place honey or maple syrup beneath the kid’s tongue to supplement sugar directly to the bloodstream; this will help to warm the animal.
  • Rub the baby goat’s back and legs vigorously to increase circulation; a baby goat that is suffering from exposure will have a reduced heart rate, which makes blood circulation more sluggish and less effective. Rubbing the muscles will also increase body warmth.

Birth Defects

Sometimes baby goats are affected by birth defects, just like any other animal. Many of these birth defects are crippling in a prey animal like goats and will quickly lead to failure to thrive and death. Some of these birth defects can be treated through intervention, and some cannot.

If a baby goat is born with an irreparable birth defect, this can be disappointing for caretakers. Sometimes these defects are congenital or one-off mutations, and it can be somewhat mollifying to learn that a baby goat’s death was unavoidable. 

baby goats can have a mineral deficiency if their mamas are missing minerals

However, since several birth defects are also the result of vitamin deficiencies or poor animal husbandry practices involving the mother, treating the entire herd for deficiencies before they become evident in newborns can prevent baby goat deaths before they become an issue. 

Here are a few of the birth defects that can afflict newborn goats:  

  • Schistosomes reflexes: This is a major trunk anomaly of the baby goat that causes spinal and organ herniations, and usually results in a stillborn baby goat. Any goats born alive with this type of birth defect should be euthanized. 
  • Neonatal rickets: This birth defect is the result of the mother goat not receiving enough Vitamin D in her diet. Baby goats should be treated with injectable Vitamin D and phosphorus-calcium supplements. 
  • Enzootic ataxia (swayback): This birth defect is the result of the mother goat not receiving enough copper in her diet. Baby goats born with this birth defect often fail to thrive, and most die shortly after birth regardless of intervention. 
  • Atresia ani/Atresia recti: These birth defects result in the baby goat not being able to defecate, either due to the anal opening not being present or functioning abnormally. These defects must be surgically treated for the animal to survive. 
  • Cleft palate: A cleft palate in baby goats is an open ridge in the roof of the mouth that exposes the sinuses, leading to aspiration of milk into the lungs. Humane euthanasia is typically recommended, as surgery is impractical and expensive. 

To determine whether birth defects are present, all baby goats born should be thoroughly examined and monitored for the first several weeks of life. With many of these issues, it is important to treat early and aggressively for the best prognosis. 

Mineral and Vitamin Deficiencies

Nutritional deficiencies in pregnant mother goats can lead to a variety of medical problems and birth defects in baby goats. These deficiencies can be deadly if left untreated. 

The best prevention is to make sure that mother goats maintain very high levels of nutrition during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester, but vitamin deficiencies can also be treated in baby goats after they’re born. 

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) Deficiency

A goat with a healthy rumen manufactures its own vitamin B, but a baby goat with a still-developing rumen that is weak or goes off its feed will become vitamin deficient quickly, and this soon leads to systemic complications and death. 

Thiamine is absolutely necessary for proper carbohydrate metabolism and normal neural activity. Baby goats that are thiamine deficiency will begin to fail rapidly due to their high metabolisms, and if left untreated, they will also die rapidly. 

Symptoms of thiamine deficiency in baby goats include:

  • Staggering
  • Head and body tremors
  • Blindness 

Baby goats determined to be suffering from B1 deficiency should be injected with a Vitamin B complex, which will deliver the thiamine as well as other B vitamins. 
Selenium Deficiency

Selenium is a trace mineral found in the soil that is responsible for the proper development of the brain, thyroid, and muscular health. 
In some areas, this mineral is deficient in the soil, which means your entire herd will require supplements to avoid malnutrition or metabolic disease. 

Symptoms of selenium deficiency in baby goats include: 

  • Weakness while suckling
  • Coughing and milk aspiration
  • Weak immune system and development of pneumonia due to lung weakness
  • Kids with ankles that bend backward and are unable to stand

To treat selenium deficiency, dose baby goats with a selenium/vitamin E gel or injection according to packaging dosage. 

Be sure to provide loose minerals to your adult herd to prevent baby goats from being born with this mineral deficiency in the first place. This should reduce your number of stillbirths, silent heats, and other reproductive issues as well. 

Copper Deficiency

Copper deficiency is a problem that tends to affect older baby goats as well as adult members of the herd. If one goat has a copper deficiency, it’s likely they all have a degree of it, as it’s evidence of a systemic animal husbandry problem. 

This is the result of either not getting enough copper in their diet or having large amounts of minerals in their diet that counteract the copper. Copper deficiency in very young goats is usually the result of a copper deficiency in the mother.

Minerals that counteract copper (such as iron, calcium, and sulfur) are present in high amounts in well water, so herds of goats watered from a well can be vulnerable to copper deficiency. Test your well water to determine mineral levels.  

Symptoms of copper deficiency in baby goats include:

  • Balding tail tip or losing hair around the eyes
  • Dull coat or loss of color in the coat
  • Anemia
  • Bowed legs or a swayback appearance

The best prevention for copper deficiency is to monitor baby goats for a dull coat or hair loss (the earliest symptom of copper deficiency) and treat accordingly before the deficiency leads to more severe medical issues. 

Baby and adult goats can both be treated for a copper deficiency with copper oxide wire particles (also known as copper boluses) added to their feed. If using hard well water to water goats, treatment with copper should be done every 3-4 months to avoid deficiency.

Prevent Baby Goat Problems to Prevent Baby Goat Deaths

As with anything, with baby goats an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is a lot easier to prevent issues with baby goats than to treat them. Goats are prey animals with a high mortality rate, so they are fragile and can die quickly if they do become ill. 

Supplementing with a proper vitamin and mineral profile, following strict animal husbandry practices towards sanitization/pasture rotation, and providing high-quality shelter and food will go a long way towards ensuring success.

By following these methods of prevention and treatment for commonly seen medical issues while goats are young, you can make sure you’re doing your very best to keep your kids happy, healthy, and alive. 

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Annemaria Duran

Hi, I’m Annemaria Duran. I moved out to the country 6 years ago, mainly so I could have more land. I love all aspects of country living. First, we got chickens, then ducks. Now we have sheep, goats, and rabbits. I'm always learning and love sharing it!

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