Tetanus and Overeating Disease in Goats: Prevention and Treatment

How to prevent goat tetanus

Of all the diseases that goats can get, two of them are the scariest, are very common, and incredibly hard to treat or prevent. Tetanus and overeating diseases in goats can cause your animals incredible pain and progress rapidly once symptoms occur. 

Although you can mostly prevent overeating disease, goats that get into other feed and eat something they shouldn’t are at risk. One vaccination, CDT, protects against both diseases and another less common one, bloody sores in newborn kids. 

There are many important things to know about these diseases and prevention so let’s dive in. 

Tetanus Dangers For Goats

Before I had goats, I thought that the fairy tales and “old wives tales” about goats were true. I thought it was possible that they could eat anything from clothes to old tin cans and more! But, not only can’t goats eat everything, eating tin cans would put goats at great risk of disease, including tetanus. 

Can goats get tetanus? Goats can get tetanus, and without a regular vaccination, it’s one of the most common diseases goats get. That’s because goats are usually curious and will chew on almost anything from plants to metal posts. In addition, goats will often climb and explore their area, which leads to an increased number of scrapes- all of which have the potential to spread tetanus to goats. Tetanus spores are found everywhere, including dirt, manure, and dust. 

It’s difficult to keep goats from contacting tetanus bacteria because they are so playful and curious, and tetanus can spread from almost anything they come into contact with. Fortunately, you can vaccinate your goats and keep them from getting tetanus. 

How do Goats Catch Tetanus?

Tetanus is a tricky disease because it’s so easily transmitted. Tetanus is caused by a goat getting a cut and coming in contact with Clostridium tetani bacteria through the wound. Goats are particularly susceptible to it because they are curious and will chew on anything. My goats even chew on the metal fencing, so if they weren’t immunized with CDT, they would probably already have tetanus! 

Tetanus bacteria don’t thrive in oxygen, so deep flesh wounds are the most dangerous. Goats can get tetanus through wounds from bucks fighting. Chains around the neck can lead to tetanus. Wethers can get tetanus from being banded. Any wound, including one from hoof trimming, picture wounds, or bites, makes a goat susceptible to tetanus. It can enter a goat’s body through the dehorning process before they heal and scab over. Goats that share a space or pasture with horses can be at a higher risk of tetanus as horse feces often has high levels of tetanus in them. 

  • Puncture wounds from grass kernels, nails, or wire
  • Scratches or flesh wounds
  • Banding
  • Disbudding and dehorning
  • Hoof trimming
  • Mouth cuts
  • Difficult births
  • Horse manure

Tetanus is found everywhere, and goats and sheep are susceptible to it. Tetanus is very common among goats that have not been vaccinated. 

Signs & Symptoms of Tetanus

Once a goat catches tetanus, symptoms appear within 10-14 days. The symptoms can be varied but always include stiffness and locking of the joints. Goats with tetanus are unable to walk or move easily. They will walk with stiffness and with limbs outstretched instead of in a natural posture. 

As the disease progresses, goats will become unable to open their mouths and display locked jaws, which also causes drooling. Paralysis occurs as a final symptom and often only hours before death. 

  • Tightly locked jaws
  • Pricked ears
  • Drooling
  • A prolapse of the third eyelid across the eye
  • Stiffness of the body, especially the limbs and the tail 
  • Paralysis

From the onset of Tetanus, it takes about 2 days before a goat dies. It’s a painful process for both the goat and the owner. 

Tetanus in goats (1)
Tetanus makes goats very stiff. Image source

Treatment of Tetanus in Goats

If your goat gets tetanus, it’s important that you take immediate action and don’t delay treatment. A goat can survive tetanus, but it is very rare. Sadly the treatment for tetanus is seldom effective, and goats with tetanus will usually still die. Occasionally, however, treatment is successful, and it’s critical to start treatment as soon as possible after tetanus symptoms appear or are suspected. 

First, locate any wounds. Check the hooves for nail punctures. With the help of a vet, open the wounds and flush them out. Hydrogen Peroxide is effective in cleansing the wound, but other wound cleansers are available. 

Cleaning the wound out will help to limit additional tetanus bacteria from entering your goat’s body. 

Your vet will need to provide a tetanus antitoxin to be administered to your goat. The antitoxin is made from antibodies and helps the goat to fight tetanus. Your vet will also prescribe high doses of penicillin to help fight the bacteria. Anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxers are often used alongside the antitoxin and penicillin. 

Prevention of Tetanus

Preventing tetanus is very difficult, but you should make sure that old nails, trash, and other debris are cleaned up in all areas where you keep your goats. Trim trees to eliminate dead branches. Keep goats fenced in (check out this article on goat fences) and predators out. Tetanus grows in deep wounds, and keeping your goats as safe as you can from wounds will help to ward off tetanus. 

But, that is a difficult task because goats love to climb on everything, jump, play, and explore their world. They tousel with each other, and a horn wound can bring about tetanus. As a result, it’s important to do what you can and realize that the most critical step you can take is to immunize your goats against tetanus through the CDT vaccination. I’ve included an immunization schedule at the end of this article. 

Overeating Disease – Enterotoxemia

Enterotoxemia, also called overeating disease, is a deadly disease that can affect any goat. The bacteria for Enterotoxemia are found in goats’ intestines but remain in small numbers unless something causes the bacteria to grow to a population that can overpower the goat’s system. 

How do goats get Enterotoxemia? Enterotoxemia usually occurs from the mismanagement of a goat’s diet. When a goat changes feed to a higher sugar feed than they are used to, overeating disease can occur. This happens most frequently when goats are fed diets high in grains or put fed new hay that’s high in alfalfa. Enterotoxemia can also happen from a change in milk or milk replacer or a change in a protein supplement. These changes provide the opportunity for Clostridium perfringens to grow to an unhealthy level inside the goat’s gut.  

That’s because these changes in the diet increase the sugar they consume over their previous diet. Digesting a drastically higher diet in sugar allows the clostridium perfringens bacteria to grow more rapidly than the healthy bacteria in a goat’s gut. The toxins from the bacteria will shock and harm the nervous systems of your goats. Check out this article on the best types of hay for goats. 

Signs of Enterotoxemia or Overeating Disease 

If you come out one day and find a goat dead with no signs of previous symptoms, then the most probable culprit is overeating disease. Overeating disease strikes goats rapidly and often doesn’t have any other noticeable symptoms before the goat dies. Enterotoxemia is also referred to as pulpy kidney disease and can be identified in an autopsy after death. Overeating disease and pulpy kidney are joint diseases that occur in goats together. Other signs of Enterotoxemia include:  

  • Lethargy
  • Refusal to eat
  • Diarrhea (sometimes visible blood in their stool)
  • Signs of stomach pain such as kicking their stomachs, crying out, painting, or repeatedly standing and lying down and standing up again 
  • May lose the ability to stand. 
  • Sudden death: The disease progresses quickly and may result in dead animals without previous symptoms. 

Overeating disease is something that I proactively combat with my herd. And, fortunately, with a few steps, overeating disease can remain a very low risk for goats. 

overeating disease in goats (1)
A goat with overeating disease. Source

6 Preventative Measures Against Overeating Disease

It’s fairly easy to prevent overeating disease through smart feed practices. Let’s go over them. 

1. Make Feed Changes Slowly

Anytime you change hay, grass, or grains, make sure to make the changes slowly. Mix the old and new feed for 2 weeks so that your goats can adjust to the new type of feed. It’s crucial to purchase new hay before you run out so that your goats have time to adjust to the new hay without digestive issues.  

Every time I purchase new hay, I buy it early enough to mix it with my existing hay for a minimum of 1-2 weeks. This is critical because goats can easily get bloated, even if they don’t progress to overeating disease, and bloating brings its own host of health issues.  

Entero is the leading cause of bloat in baby goats.

If you somehow manage to run out of hay and don’t have time to mix the hay, make sure that you purchase timothy hay to mix with your hay. I’ve found that timothy grass hay bought from a local farmer is usually cheaper than other types of hay unless it’s early in the spring. Then it’s more expensive and usually only available at feed stores. Even so, it’s worth the additional money to keep your goats safe. 

2. Guard Against Bullying or Dominance Among Your Goats 

Goats are so playful and funloving that it may surprise you to find out that they also have a herd hierarchy. I saw it for the first time when I brought home a new wether goat and introduced him to my existing herd. The wether was shy and reticent. My existing buck, which hadn’t given many issues to the rest of my herd, incessantly bullied him. It became obvious within a couple of days that I needed to separate my buck from the rest of the herd. 

An overly dominant goat can keep your reserved goats away from the food. Usually, the buck, or a pregnant doe, the bully goat, may hog most of the food. This can cause them also to overeat, which can lead to overeating disease. 

Additionally, controlling feed can also cause bashful goats to get overly hungry and encourages overeating when they gain access to the food. The best way you can combat this by splitting your herd up or by providing multiple feeding locations. 

3. Limit Grain Intake 

The healthiest food for goats is hay. Goats’ are ruminants and have four stomachs. This makes them especially adapt to pulling out calories and energy from hay. Plus, they need the roughage to keep their digestional tract functioning.  

Conversely, grains are high in sugars. Grains can quickly upset your goats’ digestive system and allow Clostridium perfringens to grow to the point that causes harm to your goat. Grains should only be used as a treat for your goats. 

But, there are two exceptions. Pregnant goats and nursing does benefit from a little extra grain and a higher calorie count. And, 4H and meat goats are often fed grains to fatten them quickly for market and processing. If your kids are raising 4H goats, it’s still important to take the rest of the steps mentioned here to reduce the odds of your goat getting overeating disease. 

4. Feed Roughage before Grains 

Feed your goats hay before you feed them grain. Hay before grain will also encourage your goats to fill up on hay before they are given grains. It’s tough for a goat to overeat hay, especially if it’s already used for that particular hay type. Roughage will also help their digestion.

5. Increase Rich Foods Slowly 

If you have goats that you are trying to finish out for the market, increase their grain allowance slowly. Start them with 1 cup of grain. After a week, double the amount of grain they are given. Every week double the daily grain they are given until they either have free access to grain or eat the amount of grain they need to gain rapid weight. 

6. Limit Pasture Time 

When goats have been eating hay all winter in the early spring, it’s important to help them adjust to a change in diet to fresh grass and hay. (Never feed a goat fresh alfalfa!) You can help them adjust by limiting their time in the pasture at the beginning. Start by giving your goats access to the rich pasture grass for an hour a day. Over the course of the week, increase that time until they have 2 hours a day. Continue increasing their time in the pasture and double their total time each day each week until they can remain in the pasture all day. 

7. Immunization of CDT

One of the most critical preventative steps you can take is to regularly vaccinate your goats against overeating disease with the CDT vaccine. CDT protects goats against overeating disease, pulpy kidney disease, bloody scours, and tetanus. 

Treating Overeating Disease 

Overeating and pulpy kidney disease is usually treated with a combination of medicines. Goats with a mild case of the disease can be treated with probiotics, painkillers, electrolytes, and antibodies. Antisera provide antibodies to the bacteria and counteract the effects of the toxins on the goat. 

In more severe cases, your goat may need an IV, antibiotics, oxygen, and other medical care. It’s less common for a goat with severe overeating disease to recover. Because the disease can come on rapidly, you may not notice the few symptoms it displays in time. That’s why it’s critical that your goats are also vaccinated with the CDT vaccination. 

CDT Vaccination Is The Most Critical Vaccination For Goats

CD-T (also CDT) protects goats against three of the most common and deadliest diseases your goats are likely to encounter. CDT protects goats against Clostridium perfringens types C and D. It also protects against Clostridium tetani or tetanus. 

Type C causes bloody scours in new. Type D causes overeating disease and pulpy kidney disease. The T in CDT represents the vaccination against tetanus. 

CDT is important for goats because every disease that CDT protects against is a disease that goats can easily get without transmission. The bacteria for all three diseases are either found everywhere in the natural environment or inside your goat’s stomach and intestines. It would be impossible to protect goats against all three types of bacteria. 

Even when goats are fed to reduce or eliminate the chances of overeating disease, they are still at risk of tetanus. As a result, all goats must get the CDT vaccination and maintain an ongoing vaccination schedule annually. 

CDT Vaccination Schedule

How often should goats be vaccinated with CDT? Ideally, goats should first be vaccinated from CDT when they are 6-10 weeks old. After the first dose, a second booster dose should be administered 10-14 days later. Two doses should also be given to adult goats that haven’t been vaccinated previously. After the initial two doses, you should give goats CDT at least annually. 

Pregnant does should also be given CDT before kidding. My vet recommends that I vaccinate my does with CDT 4-6 weeks before kidding. This helps protect does during birthing and will provide a higher level of antibodies to the kids after birth as long as they nurse and obtain colostrum. 

Goats that are fed a rich diet or grains or high-quality pasture grass may need more frequent immunizations. CDT is one vaccination that doesn’t harm goats if they get them too frequently. Many goat producers immunize their goats with CDT quarterly because meat goats usually eat feed high with grain or alfalfa.

  • 1 month before kidding
  • Within 1-2 months after birth to the kids 
  • Booster shot 10 days later
  • Annually thereafter

Conclusion

Even if you aren’t a fan of vaccinations and want to keep your goats as natural as possible, CDT is the one vaccination I’d recommend. It’s too tragic to watch a goat suffer and die from tetanus, and it’s heartbreaking to have a goat suddenly die. 

-link to the bigger vaccination article also maybe link to the new bloat article I’m going to write (dawn dish soap)

Related Articles

Understanding CL in Goats: Infection, Prevention, and Treatment

Understanding and Preventing Rabies in Goats

Understand Sore Mouth (Orf) in Goats: Prevention and Treatment

References 

MSD Veterinary Manuel

Colorado State University Extension 

University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine

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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