Understanding CL in Goats: Infection, Prevention, and Treatment

Preventing CL in goats (1)

When I purchase new goats for my herd, I am always anxious to ensure that the new goats are free from CL and that my herd remained healthy and strong. That’s because CL spreads easily, is difficult to control, and almost always results in a financial loss. 

What is CL in goats? CL, or Caseous Lymphadenitis, is a disease that causes abscesses in goats, sheep, and other animals. Abscesses can form both internally on organs and externally. CL causes several side effects in goats, including chronic weight loss, coughing, and most commonly, abscesses and lesions with thick, pasty pus. CL is very contagious, and the spores usually survive in the ground and environment for 8 months. CL is a zoonotic disease that can spread between sheep, alpacas, llamas, horses, cows, and people. 

If you suspect CL in one of your animals, you must take steps to protect the rest of your animals from it. I recommend proactively working to keep your herd CL-free. This article will walk you through identifying, treating, and preventing CL in your herd. 

Protecting Your Goats From CL

You can take several steps to protect your herd from CL, but isolating your herd is the most effective. This means quarantine and testing all new animals to prevent the spread from another herd. 

I’d love to say that all farmers would be considerate and not sell a CL-infected goat to you. But, I’ve read some websites that recommend selling infected animals to prevent the spread to your own flock. That is highly irresponsible and bound to get you a good dose of karma kicking your butt back. Goats (or sheep) with CL must be identified and isolated. As soon as culling is possible after the abscesses are healed over, it should be done. I know that can be super emotional and difficult to do. 

  1. Maintain a closed herd
  2. Isolate new goats for 30-60 days before introducing them to your herd. Test the herd of origin. If testing the herd of origin isn’t possible, test the new animals twice at least 30 days apart. This includes breeding bucks as an infected buck can contaminate does. 
  3. Avoid purchasing animals with abscesses.
  4. Avoid giving shots in the shoulders where a shot reaction could be confused with a CL abscess.
  5. Disinfect shears and hoof trimming equipment between animals. Shear and trim the hooves of animals with abscesses last. 
  6. Use individual needles for each animal. 
  7. Cull infected animals from the herd 
  8. Eliminate barbed wire, rough feeders, and other items that can cause wounds and help spread CL. 
  9. Practice good biosecurity during kidding. If you have a goat with CL, separate the kids from the mamma and feed them a colostrum and milk supplement. 

CL spreads from goat to goat through contact with the pus from an abscess left on a surface or directly from the infected goat. It can spread through eating or direct contact via the mouth, nose, eyes, or into a wound or scratch. Usually, the abscess from an infected goat leaves bacteria on a surface, and when another goat with a wound rubs against it, they become infected. It can also happen if a goat eats or licks a surface that’s contaminated. That’s a concern because most goats will lick anything! 

CL can also spread through milk if a goat has an abscess on the udders. It can spread to kids during childbirth. And it can spread as two bucks play and roughhouse with each other.  

Symptoms of Caseous Lymphadenitis (CL) in Goats

What does CL look like in goats? Caseous Lymphadenitis is often identified in goats because of the lesions and abscesses that emit green or yellow cheese-like pus the consistency of toothpaste. Externally, lesions often appear on the neck and stomach of the infected animal. But, a high percentage of CL-infected animals don’t show any external lesions. Abscesses often form in the lungs, stomach, liver, kidneys, udder and may never show any outside signs. This makes identifying and stopping the spread of CL difficult. 

In one study, 54% of infected animals were not identified as infected by owners because there were no external abscesses or lesions. Without external signs of CL, it can be difficult to stop the spread and to identify which animals have CL.

Did you know? 

Abscesses form more often on older goats of 4 or more years. Younger goats and does and more likely to spread CL without external symptoms. 

Symptoms of CL in goats: 

  • Lymphs, lesions, and abscesses in the neck, abdomen, udders, and skin of the goat
  • Abscesses with yellow pasty pus and a rank smell
  • Reduced milk production
  • Abscesses internally on organs such as the kidney, liver, stomach, or udders
  • Chronic weight loss can signal abscesses on internal organs
  • Breathing distress if there are abscesses on the lungs
  • Failure to thrive combined with rapid breathing, coughing, a snotty nose, and fever can be an indication of lung lesions 

Not every sign means CL has infected one of your animals. Other illnesses can cause some of the same signs. The same is true of abscesses, but if one of your animals has abscesses, it’s important to treat it as a CL abscess until you confirm it is not CL. 

Although goats can get internal CL, it is more common in sheep. Sheep get internal CL more often than external CL, and goats usually get external CL. 

How can I verify if a goat has CL? Goats without external abscesses are usually identified as CL-infected goats only after slaughter. CL is usually identified in goats through testing of the abscess puss through a lab test. You can also have a blood test done to determine if your goat has contracted CL, but this gets complicated if the goat has been immunized for CL because, after immunization, goats will test positive. 

Treating CL in Your Goat Herd

If you suspect that a goat in your herd has CL, it’s critical that you isolate it and any other goats you suspect have CL. The Ohio State University Sheep Team recommends treatment of any goats or sheep with CL abscesses to avoid the spread of CL.  

  1. Isolate infected animal. 
  2. Place the infected animals in an area with a concrete floor that can be disinfected easily. A tarp will also work and should be thrown away. Dirt or rocky ground can hold the CL microbes for a very long time (most often 8 months). 
  3. Wear gloves to avoid contracting CL
  4. Drain the abscess to avoid a rupture in the field. Cut a cross (+) in the abscess. 
  5. Rinse the abscess cavity with hydrogen peroxide and an iodine solution. Do not use formalin. It is carcinogenic, and the FDA has zero-tolerance for it in meat or milk animals.
  6. Keep infected animals away from the herd until the abscess is completely healed.
  7. Throw away scalpel after use and burn gloves, lining material, napkins. 

Can my goats get better from CL? Goats infected with CL will remain infected for life. There is no known cure and no antibiotics that consistently control CL, especially in goats. Depending on the situation, there are various methods used to contain CL. A goat with CL and an open abscess can have surgery that removes the abscess and contains the bacteria, keeping it from spreading to the environment. This can help to contain CL. 

But, surgery can be expensive. You can also isolate individual goats with CL. Be aware that any area where CL goats have been will likely remain contaminated for many months afterward. One study in Brazil found it could last in arid soils for up to two years. CL is hard to contain within a herd. 

As a result, many goat owners decide to cull goats with CL. This can be the most effective way to stop CL from spreading to the rest of the herd. But, it’s also heartbreaking and can be financially devastating. 

As a result, some farmers decide to hide the fact that their herd has CL, especially if favored animals or high producers contract it. But, even this can be costly as a CL-infected goat drops in value significantly. 

The CL Vaccination and Its Effectiveness in Goats 

CL vaccinations are available in the United States for Sheep and Goats. It’s important only to use a vaccination made specifically for the breed of animal you have. Sheep vaccinations have caused a high level of reaction in goats and even spread the illness. In Canada, only a sheep vaccination is currently approved. 

CL vaccinations are not 100% effective. They do not help already infected animals to combat the disease. Once an animal has been vaccinated, it will test positive for CL with a blood test in the future. 

Because the vaccinations are not completely effective and pose some risk, researchers and the vets I spoke with recommended that only herds with exposure or previous CL cases be vaccinated. Younger goats can be vaccinated as they are introduced to an exposed herd. 

Frequently Asked Questions:  

Can humans get CL from goats? Yes, goats and sheep can give CL to humans. Most of the time, people get CL, who handle animals regularly. I’m not aware of any circumstances where a person has gotten it from a cut from barbed wire, although it is possible. Usually, it happens from handling infected animals and not taking proper precautions. 

Should you cull a goat with CL? All animals with CL should be culled to prevent the spread. If culling is not feasible, then permanently isolating CL-infected animals from non-infected animals should be done. Infected animals should be isolated until the external lesions are healed, and then they can be culled. This will help to prevent the spread of CL to people through culling. 

Can you drink milk from a goat with CL? People can get CL from drinking milk from a CL-infected animal, but it is rare. Never drink the milk from a goat that has lesions on the udders. At a minimum, pasteurize milk from CL-infected does. 

Related Articles

Understanding and Preventing Rabies in Goats

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

Tetanus and Overeating Disease in Goats: Prevention and Treatment

Additional References

Preventing and controlling Caseous Lymphadenitis (CL) – Ontario Goat

Caseous Lymphadenitis (wsu.edu)

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!

Recent Posts