On Pregnancy Toxemia (AKA Ketosis) and Milk Fever (AKA Hypocalcemia)

This article is actually about two different subjects (Ketosis and Hypocalcemia), but since their symptoms are almost identical, and Hypocalcemia leads to Ketosis, I thought it would be best to address them both at once.

Hypocalcemia’s definition is pretty straightforward: it’s when your goat’s levels of calcium is dangerously below what’s needed.

Ketosis is slightly more complicated. Ketosis is when the body isn’t getting enough energy, and the body starts breaking down fat reserves. This kind of metabolism is incomplete, and leaves behind deadly acid compounds called ketones. Too many of these ketones will turn the blood acidic and kill.

Both of these occur often because of an incorrect diet, and most often to pregnant or recently kidded goats. The last 6 weeks of pregnancy demands a lot on a doe’s body (as the kids are getting 60% of their growth, her body is preparing to create milk, and the birth process also requires a lot of energy and calcium), and if she doesn’t get what she needs, her body is going to start using her fat reserves in excess, resulting in all of the deadly ketones. Similarly, if she doesn’t get when she needs when she comes into milk, or if she’s a heavy producer, her body will pull from its own reserves.

These two problems can result from not getting enough feed, and, interestingly enough, from getting too much feed.

The simpler explanation is this: Grain is needed for the correct calcium/phosphorus ratio in a goat’s diet (I believe phosphorus is needed to process calcium). In the last 6 weeks to a month of pregnancy, when the babies are pulling a lot on on the doe for calcium, your doe is going to make a smart move and switch to focusing on eating alfalfa.

In Hypocalcemic situations, she doesn’t eat enough grain or isn’t able to consume enough to keep up the proper calcium/phosphorus ratio. Her body starts pulling calcium from her bones.

In ‘simple’ Ketonic situations, her body, which has been depending on this high-energy grain intake, panics. It starts drawing energy from her fat cells.

In either situation, the incomplete metabolic process results in an explosion of ketones, turning her blood extremely acidic.

So here’s the trick: in either situation, it’s best not to give any grain until the last month or so of pregnancy. Giving your does a little boost in this manner helps keep up her energy for growing kids and metabolizing alfalfa, but not early enough that the body depends on it and goes through a shock when the kids rapidly begin to pull more from the doe.

There is also a possibility of ketosis after a doe has kidded, if she’s a heavy milker. This is called Milk Fever (and is Hypocalcemia). It’s the same basic story: her milk production is demanding more calcium than she’s intaking, so it pulls from her reserves, and again with the ketones. The best way to prevent this problem is to make sure to increase her grain (not too fast, but enough) after she kids to keep up with her production.

Stress is also connected to a doe succumbing to Pregnancy Toxemia. Preventing sudden changes in her environment, in her herd, and in feeding will help combat this.

Hypocalcemia and Ketosis will kill a doe very quickly. So how can you tell if your doe has Ketosis or Hypocalcemia?

These are the common symptoms:

The doe eats less or stops eating completely
Depression
Separation from the herd
The doe may be slow to get up or may lie off in a corner
Her eyes are dull
Sometimes blindness
Muscle tremors & seizures
The doe’s breath and urine may have a fruity sweet odor. This is due to the excess ketones, which have a sweet smell.

So what do you do if see these symptoms?

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to diagnose whether it’s ‘simple’ Ketosis or Hypocalcemia, so treating for both is probably the best method. You must get her calcium and energy levels up, and get her eating again so she’ll keep these up herself. Often times a doe will refuse to eat when she feels sick in this way, exacerbating the problem.

For the calcium component, you will need something called CMPK. This stands for Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium — all of these minerals are needed to absorb the calcium. Giving straight calcium does no good if your doe doesn’t have the right minerals to process it.

If your doe is severely weak and refusing to eat, use an injectable CMPK. It takes time for the doe to absorb calcium through an oral solution and there are situations where there is no time for the absorption.

For this, inject subcutaneously, or under the skin, not into the muscle. After tying her down or having someone hold her head, pull up her skin a few inches down from her topline, where the skin is looser and you won’t be in danger of hitting any bone or major nerves. Inject 40-60 cc of Calcium Gluconate. The injections should be broken down into at least 4 injections in different sites. Do not give more than 10 cc per injection site. The injections should be given slowly.

If her symptoms are milder and you’ve just noticed a change in behavior, then you can probably get away with an oral calcium drench: 8 oz. three times a day until the doe is eating and symptoms are subsiding.

Important note: Please be careful with what kind of CMPK, because several types of calcium will burn or leave sores if given orally, or burn when given in shot form, which can result in putting your doe off her feed even more. CMPK with calcium chloride is the most common one to do this. Try to find a composition with calcium carbonate, or calcium gluconate. (I’ve also used, in milder situations, a for-human-consumption CMPK that’s flavored. They definitely want to eat that!)

To combat the energy and sugar side of the Ketosis equation, there are several things you can do. If you can convince your doe to take some tasty treats, give her all she’ll take! Grain works, anything that’s good and healthy with lots of calories and calcium. Also, follow any of the suggestions below:

  • Molasses & Karo syrup (corn syrup). Mix 2 parts corn syrup to 1 part molasses. 20 – 30ml every 2 hours. It also tastes good, which makes it easier to administer and nicer for your lady-goat.
  • You can use Propylene Glycol at 3-4 oz (90-120ml) 2 times a day, for 2 days, and then 1-2 oz (30ml-60ml) 2 times daily until the doe is eating normally, OR, 10 – 20ml every 2 hours
    • However, Propylene Glycol is an appetite suppressant and it inhibits rumen bacteria, so do not use unless the doe is off her feed.
    • Also, Propylene Glycol is extremely similar in composition to Anti-Freeze, which makes me feel a little weird giving them to my goats. There are other, less harmful sugars.
  • Nutridrench, Goatdrench: 2 oz. 2 times a day
  • Children’s chewable vitamins with extra calcium, or even Tums, are great to give to a goat who is still interested in eating. These are also an excellent thing to hand out in the barn as a preventative for Hypocalcemia.
  • An oral probiotic, like Probios, will stimulate the appetite and keep the rumen functioning as it should.
  • B-Complex injections will stimulate the appetite and give energy.

There are also a few aromatherapy things you can do to help with the stress aspect if you feel that is a factor:

  • Rescue Remedy can help calm.
  • Lavender Essential Oil also can help with stress and depression. Lavender has a calming and mood lifting effect. Place 4 drops of oil in three different places in the doe’s stall twice a day.

 

Once the doe has regained her appetite, make sure to increase her grain ration so that a relapse doesn’t occur. Also make sure she has access to enough alfalfa, and isn’t being bullied by other goats away from the feed.

(As a final note I’d like to add that I’ve had a goat who suffered from hypocalcemia and wasn’t pregnant. If you ever see a sick-looking goat who isn’t pregnant and is suffering from muscle tremors, I’d really advise you take her to the vet and test her calcium level! This lady of mine recovered with a heavy CMPK regime, and I gave her calcium supplements and treats pretty much the rest of her life, as she had other health problems that probably inhibited her ability to absorb calcium.)

 

Any questions? Any other methods you’ve used to help combat/prevent Ketosis or Hypocalcemia (Milk Fever)?

Advertisements

Raising Kids: The First Year of a Goat’s Life

I thought summarizing information on raising kids, instead of forcing you to jump between several posts to put it all together, would be a good idea.

There are several things to pay attention to before a goat turns a year old. Particular attention needs to be paid to feeding. It’s also when some diseases will make themselves apparent. Their bodies grow fast. They grow teeth and personalities. They hit puberty.

Heck, think of a 16-year-old, and shove all the previous 16 years into one year, and then put it inside a goat body.

First off, you’ll want to decide if you’re going to dam-raise or bottle-raise. My post here highlights the considerations to take into account. The different ways will add certain factors into their care.

Secondly, you’ll want to decide if you are de-horning or not. If you want to show, you’ll need to dehorn. If you have already de-horned goats, it’s GREATLY advised you de-horn going forward. Mixing horned and non-horned animals is generally a bad idea and results in moderate to severe injuries. The On Disbudding Kids post can help.

We’ll start with feeding. If you’ve read through my feeding posts you’ll know some of this already, but I’ll put it all together here.

Newborn babies should get as much colostrum as they want. Colostrum, or the mother’s first milk, is packed full of vitamins, minerals, antibodies, and immune system helpers that kick-start a babies growth and health. If you’re bottle raising, the best idea is to try to find (or have) colostrum directly from the source. If you’re bottle raising to prevent CAE infection, make sure you heat-treat the colostrum to kill any virus in the milk. Otherwise, there are colostrum replacements available that you can order. Try to find one specifically for goats.

After about a week dams will no longer produce colostrum but straight milk, and babies will have had enough to kick start their health. At this point, if you’re bottle raising and are using milk replacer, I highly recommend you mix the replacer with cows milk. There have been instances of baby goats getting bloat from being on straight milk replacer.

By a week or two babies will already be interested in eating solids. You can offer a little bit of alfalfa and they may start trying to eat. Dam-raised babies will naturally be interested in whatever mom is eating and they’ll nibble on things by even just a few days old!

By a month, they should be eating alfalfa. If they’re interested and eating some beforehand, great! Alfalfa has all the good things that kids need to grow up big and strong.

Feeding a little bit of grain by 1 1/2 – 2 months is all right, but too much can cause problems, and many breeders don’t like to “growthy” kids that come out of that. Minimize grain intake until about 4-6 months old, when they should be getting a handful or two. You can slowly increase this amount, but do not exceed 1 1/2 lbs a day.

Offer minerals, too, starting at a few months of age. Either a block or loose. They’ll like that.

Technically doelings can be bred at 7 months of age. I don’t know anyone who recommends this. It is best if you wait until they are at least a year old, and have gotten all their growth and maturity, before you expose them to bucks.

This also means that bucks can breed at 7 months. Make sure they’re separated from their female companions by that time!

By the time they’ve hit a year old, they don’t need alfalfa or grain. You can switch over their feeding regime (remember, slowly!) to a quality grass hay, and pasture if that’s available. If you’re breeding your doelings around this time, it’s best to just continue feeding alfalfa, but you may want to decrease how much grain you’re feeding until the last couple weeks of their pregnancy. This will help prevent pregnancy ketosis and hypocalcemia, a topic that I will explain in an upcoming post.

Bucks can stop receiving grain after a year and rut is over with, and you probably won’t need to feed them grain after that (though, if they’re struggling to keep up weight, you can feed them some). Alfalfa can be important during winter months and rut, as well as a quality grass hay to make sure they’re getting enough roughage and staying warm (since goats gain heat from the movement of their stomachs).

Any questions? Comments? Anything to add?