Veterinary Viewpoints: Top 10 Things You Need to Know about Goat Pneumonia

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Media contact: Derinda Blakeney, APR | OSU University of Veterinary Medicine | 405-744-6740 |

Respiratory disease is a common problem in goats. I recently interviewed a large group of veterinarians with a particular interest in goats and asked them what goat producers should know most about goat pneumonia. Here are their answers:

1. Environment is important. Dust, weather, overcrowding, travel, animal resettlement, stress, parasites, and diet all play a role in an animal’s susceptibility to respiratory disease. A diet with proteins and trace elements is the basis for combating disease. Animals need high quality food and a loose trace element. It’s amazing how animals can weather a disease challenge when their diet is right. You have no control over the weather and travel, and buying new animals can be a fact for your business, but you have the opportunity to limit the risk of pneumonia that these things bring with them. Shelter, quarantine of new animals, and a sustainable parasite control plan can all protect against pneumonia.

2. It’s all about timing. Veterinarians get a lot of inquiries about “better” antibiotics. In fact, the success of the treatment is much more tied to the time of treatment than to the drug used. Bacteria can double in size every 15-30 minutes while damaging the lungs. Observe your animals daily and understand their normal rhythm. Then, when they are “off” for the first time, you will recognize it more easily and, above all, take appropriate action.

3. Get into the habit of taking temperatures on all sick animals. The normal range for rectal temperature in goats is 101.5-103.5o. Keep a digital thermometer in your house or stable marked for animals. If you’re watching an animal that is simply not doing the right thing, taking temperature readings is a good place to start. Well, besides pneumonia, many things can cause a fever so this won’t be the last word, but this is an important piece of information to give your veterinarian when you call.

4. Please don’t give drugs and then call. Often times, owners will give two or three different drugs over the course of a day or two and then call for help. This causes several problems. First, some antibiotics can actually interfere with another’s ability to kill the bacteria. The medication that has already been administered can limit other treatment options. Antibiotics also take time to work. Not giving one drug time to work before administering another is not much different from giving two at the same time.

5. Using antibiotics is not easy. Not only can two drugs given at the same time make them ineffective, but there are other antibiotic use issues that need to be considered. Antibiotics work anywhere in the body, not just the lung tissue. This is important because if animals are already not eating well due to illness, overuse of antibiotics can kill the healthy bacteria in their rumen and make the situation worse.

Only one drug – Naxcel – is labeled for respiratory diseases in goats. All other antibiotics used are off-label and must be given under the direction of a veterinarian. If these drugs are used outside of the label, the withdrawal time indicated on the bottle no longer applies; it gets longer. If you use these drugs without the guidance of a veterinarian to ensure these extended withdrawal times, drug residues appear and are identified in edible products. And it’s not just antibiotics. Other abused drugs are also emerging. Recently, a list of the most common injurious residues in goats was published, including a deworming agent (moxidectin or cydectin), an anti-inflammatory (flunixin or banamin and its generics) and the antibiotics ciprofloxacin, enrofloxacin (both from Baytril use), oxytetracycline (liquamycin LA -200 and its generics) and penicillin. It is important to note that it is illegal to use Baytril on goats. The misuse of drugs not only has legal consequences, but also becomes less effective over time.

6. Lungworms are extremely rare. For this reason, do not assume that an animal that does not respond to antibiotics when it appears to have pneumonia has lungworms and needs to be dewormed. Especially in the south, the risk of Hemonchus resistance to deworming agents is much, much higher than the risk of lungworms, and using deworming agents in this way will accelerate the de-wormer failure rate.

7. There is little to no evidence of the use of bovine vaccines in goats. It may be tempting to use the cattle respiratory disease vaccines in goats to prevent pneumonia. Although goats receive some of the same bacteria and viruses as cattle, the strains are different and there is currently no evidence that bovine vaccines protect against pneumonia in goats.

8. Breathing quickly or hard is not the same as pneumonia. Here are a few examples: Consider a 5 month old Angora with a temperature of 104.6o and a breathing rate of 78 breaths per minute and a 6 month old Bure with a temperature of 105o and a breathing rate of 100 breaths per minute. Both do not eat and both have a lack of rumen (stomach) motility. All of these are signs of pneumonia and based on these parameters both were treated for pneumonia before coming to see me. After my examination, I found that the Angora had copper toxicity and the Bure had grain overload. The delay in the correct diagnosis leads to unnecessary suffering for the animals and it is very important that sick animals are fully examined by a veterinarian in order to obtain a timely and accurate diagnosis.

9. Cough is an unreliable symptom. Animals that cough do not necessarily have pneumonia, and animals with pneumonia do not necessarily have to cough. When someone calls me with a coughing goat and wants an antibiotic for them, I always ask if they are sick and have a fever. Most animals that only cough but are otherwise healthy do not need antibiotics. They should be closely monitored. On the other hand, not all animals that have pneumonia cough.

10. Please be careful with advice from the Internet. People in online groups mean well, but often give incomplete answers. There are nuances of recommended treatment that can make it inappropriate in certain situations. Often the answers are reflexive or overly simplified and leave out important details. The second problem is that it becomes clear that the counselor has not read the entire question asked. They often respond to the first keyword they see without fully considering the whole situation. I highly recommend establishing a daylight relationship with a veterinarian in your area. When a goat farmer calls me for advice and all I’ve ever done for him is an emergency C-section at 2 a.m., we have no relationship or shared knowledge that allows me to give advice or medication. However, once I’ve seen a number of animals for this producer and been in their facility and seen firsthand how they work, I am much better able to help them over the phone if necessary.

About the author: Dr. Meredyth Jones is an adjunct professor of food veterinary medicine and surgery in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Oklahoma State University. A graduate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (Large Animal), she also holds Large Animal Consulting & Education.

Veterinary Viewpoints is offered by the faculty of the OSU Veterinary Medical Hospital. The American Animal Hospital Association-certified hospital is open to the public and offers routine and special care for all animal species, as well as 24-hour emergency care, 365 days a year. Call 405-744-7000 for an appointment or more information.

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