Like Mother Like Daughter: Calcium and Phosphorus Deficiencies

One of my first goats and the original matriarch of my herd, who I lost last year, had a weird problem where she could never seem to get enough calcium. I describe the whole history in full here, but for whatever reason, Cocoa had issues absorbing enough calcium. I’m pretty convinced it had something to do with the fact that Cocoa was CAEV positive, and that the stresses on her body brought out this susceptibility — or brought on this susceptibility — but I’m not a vet, so I don’t completely know. The point is, I was supplementing calcium, or CMPK (calcium-magnesium-potassium-phosphorus, which has all the needed minerals to absorb calcium correctly) for most of the time I had with her.

Her daughter (Phoenix, or Phe) who I rescued alongside her, was also positive when she came to me. Phe is asymptomatic — meaning, she had CAE according to blood tests, but is a very healthy, perky, full of personality pain in my butt.

But something interesting (and scary, don’t forget scary) happened a while ago. While Phe and the devil twins (Sassy and Duchess) were out eating brush at my parent’s house, so suddenly grew weak and couldn’t move her back legs within a matter of days. She wouldn’t stand, and if she could, for brief moments, she leaned up against a wall and look completely miserable. My mom and I had to carry her to the car because she couldn’t make her legs work.

Desperately searching for answers, I thought it might be meningeal worms of something of the like. Later, the vet told me we don’t have meningeal worms in the area so that wasn’t possible, but for a hot minute I was convinced she had worms in her spine that might paralyze her for life.

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Poor unhappy looking Phe!

But, because my vet is very smart, he had us do several blood tests for vitamins and minerals to make sure the cause wasn’t that (incidentally, this is how he found out Cocoa’s problem and saved her, too). Mineral imbalances, in my experience anyway, are often the problem with whatever is going on. Goats, as hearty as they are, also are pretty susceptible if they’re getting incorrect food.

Turns out, Phe was critically low in phosphorus, a compliment mineral to calcium. I didn’t even know a phosphorus problem could even cause such issues. Weakness of limbs? Lackluster behavior? I’d never even heard of that in connection to phosphorus.

So the vet gave her a shot of phosphorus and a few other good vitamins (which made her perk her head up and start twitching around, which was really funny), but said that phosphorus shots were almost 80% wasted because the body wouldn’t absorb it. So it was a good start, but I needed to supplement it in her food to get her back to normal.

He told me to go to a hay supplier — and he actually knew of one in the area — that tests their hay for vitamin and mineral content. I was to find the hay with the highest phosphorus count possible (going against the normal important of making sure your hay is a correct balance between calcium and phosphorus), and feed that to the goats for the remainder of the winter. Because if Phe was so critically low, then the others probably were low, too.

(Later I found out the hay I was feeding had a low phosphorus count. The vet told me later that he’d seen a ton of those kinds of deficiencies, so there was something odd in the hay in the area for this year).

I also needed to find phosphorus mineral and try to feed her it. That part would be more difficult, because the mineral smells super funny and most goats won’t eat it.

Funny story: Phe wanted to eat it almost immediately, funny smell or no. She actually ate quite a bit for a week, where then she decided she wanted to have none of it and I had to get more creative to get it into her.

Phe started feeling better within a few days. The turn around was pretty drastic actually — she was a little weak for a few weeks, but the actual getting back up on her feet was a very quick turnaround.

Another funny story: I managed to get phosphorus mineral in her via grain and a few other treats for a while until she figured out what I was doing. But the last attempt to give her a few good doses of phosphorus I heralded back to her bottle-baby roots.

I have her a bottle. Mixing milk and molasses together (to hide the taste of the minerals), I heated it all up and dissolved the minerals so she could eat it in liquid form. Knowing Phe, who gets very excited about anything bottle-shaped, she sucked the whole thing down like a champ, including the needed phosphorus.

Here’s the proof:

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Here’s my 3-year-old, drinking a baby bottle (with molasses, that’s why it’s brown. Ignore my green fingers, I was painting)

Flash forward to about January. I noticed Phe was standing a little funny. She’s already this gangy, long-legged wonder that has as much grace as a dancing giraffe, but I did notice she was holding her butt funny. And, if I put pressure on her hips (even just a tiny bit of pressure) her rump would go down.

I decided phosphorus was in order, because weakness was how it first presented. I dissolved the mineral in some strawberry CMPK (for people, but all the time) to taste good and squirted it into her mouth.

Within 12 hours she was better.

So… every once and a while, if she’s holding her butt funny, I give her some of the mineral. And sometimes just because.

But the point of this: Phe, with her phosphorus absorption problem, is the daughter of Cocoa, who had the calcium absorption problem. I know CAEV is about inflammation, and primarily effects joints and the mammary system, but I really do wonder if the retro-virus just makes it difficult on their bodies overall, in a variety of ways. Maybe it’s just genetic that both Cocoa and Phe have these problems, the susceptibility for it heightened because their bodies are under stress from the virus. Maybe the CAEV is doing something in particular that’s eating up certain minerals.

But whichever way, I thought this was an interesting correlation that I might share with you all. Also, always try to feed the correct balance of minerals in your feed. Good nutrition is the number one way to prevent sick animals! And check your mineral/vitamin levels in your goats if they do end up sick!

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The Herd Reunited!

The Adventuring Trio (out at my parent’s property) came home! We picked up a load of hay while we were at it, so they got to snack on the way there:

Phe and Duchess helped Nevin drive:

Their faces when we arrived. Ha!

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Phe and Blackberry got into a fight immediately upon arrival (they were the herd bosses of each separate herd, so had to decide who was going to be overall herd boss). Blackberry won, which was pretty surprising. But they’ve mostly figured out their new positions, with only a few spats and testiness between them.

And there they are eating all together! Well, except for Sari, who was eating in the other room. She likes her space. And the food all to herself.

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving In Goat Land

This is what Thanksgiving Dinner looks like in the world of goat:

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I’m working part-time at a produce stand right now, and they sell bruised apples at a discounted price. There were all sorts of goodies in there.

I had to start Thanksgiving treats early, of course:

But the actual ‘dinner’ was a little more prepared:

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The bucks didn’t really get the idea of the apples. They definitely liked the grain though.

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But the girls were REALLY into it.

… and then the bucks got really excited about the girls hanging out near them and forgot about the grain and apples. (The girls didn’t care)

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Maggie got really excited and somehow managed to shove her dish under the pile of straw in her effort to chew her apples.

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And occasionally a few of them remembered there was alfalfa.

Happy belated Thanksgiving everyone!

Remember that the actual Thanksgiving story and tradition is tragic and terrible — and that many families are being fractured due to the rise of hatred in the United States.

With all of this in perspective, I hope you found a lot to be thankful for, and were able to spend good quality time with family and friends!

 

Projectile Vomiting Blackberry

When it rains it pours; not only are we dealing with Duchess the Broken Goat and Phe’s phosphorus deficiency problem, but Blackberry started projectile vomiting a few nights ago.

The lights are not working in the barn, and that evening I was late to chores so it was pitch black outside. I was using a flashlight, but I really only noticed it because of the smell.

Goat bile is really hard to miss.

I consulted Google, which can really be a hit or miss. The most likely cause is that she ate something poisonous, due to the violence and the suddenness of the puking. I didn’t realize until later that they’d found a way into the backyard and tasted the rhododendrons (which resulted in a more severe case later). Thankfully, she only had a few nibbles.

The biggest worry was that she wouldn’t stop puking, and I’d need to start worrying about dehydration and pumping her full of vitamins. Which, of course, couldn’t be oral, because they’d just vomit it all back up.

Thankfully, she stopped puking by that morning. Rancid bile covered the walls and most of her companions, but she wasn’t puking, and half-heartedly ate some alfalfa and grain.

Cleaning up all that was a joy.

But mostly I’m just really relieved it wasn’t going to turn into a long-term problem. A few days later, and she acts like it never happened.

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Afternoon after the Night of Puking… all clean, and about 75% feeling better

Phosphorus Deficiency Causing Weak Hind Legs (in Adults)

My mother and I had a terrible fright about a week ago; she called me up to tell me that Phe’s hind legs were so weak she was struggling to stand (Phe, Duchess, and Sassy are Off On An Adventure — AKA clearing brush at my parent’s house).

My first conclusion, based off of research, was that she had meningeal worms. Also called “Deer Worms,” these bastards are brought in, the larvae flourish in slugs and snails, and then get accidentally ingested by a variety of animals. They then move from the goat’s (or other animal’s) intestines into their spine, causing paralysis, nerve-damage, and can eventually invade the brain and kill them.

I called the after-hours emergency line. The vet told me that meningeal worms didn’t exist in the area I’m at.

Oh. Well so much for the Web Vet.

The vet got me an early morning appointment the next day to figure out what was going on. By that morning, Phe couldn’t stand without help.

Poor baby, she didn’t even complain the whole way to the vet.

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One unhappy looking goat! Cute though.

The vet had to run a few blood tests before he found: Phe’s phosphorus count, which should’ve been around 8-9, was 1.5. He gave her a thiamine shot (a type of vitamin B that assists in neurological function) and a phosphorus shot. Unfortunately, phosphorus isn’t absorbed very well in shot form — it’s best if it’s ingested.

The vet recommended I go to a specific hay seller that tests all mineral and vitamin levels in the hays they sell — and get a hay that has an incorrect phosphorus-calcium balance, ergo, higher phosphorus or equal phosphorus to calcium.

In addition to this, he told me to pick up dicalcium phosphate (it comes in loose mineral form) to feed her. He said that I’d need to mix it with molasses to get her to eat it, since it smells funny.

I’ve always had a theory that goats (and animals in general) are smarter than we think about eating things they need (I mean, they’ll be stupid and eat things that are poisonous to them — but that’s a totally different blog post). I mean, they’re not geniuses about it, but I think they instinctively know some of the things they need.

Despite the phosphorus minerals smelling funny (and tasting bad?), Phe ate a TON of them without any trickery. And she has continued to do so in the following days!

Even with just the shots the vet gave her, she was SO much better even by the next morning. She went from unable to walk to drunken goat in 12 hours. By 36 hours she was almost completely normal, with only a little incoordination and occasional stumbling.

A WEEK LATER:

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Scrambling around on the driveway and into the bushes — doing just fine!

We had some worry that her back legs were getting weak again, and she was no longer eating the phosphorus minerals. The vet figured her body was probably backed up in processing the phosphorus, and recommended a vitamin D shot, which aids in said processing.

We’re now trying a few tricks to continue getting the minerals in her, including making her up a ‘bottle’ with the dissolved minerals in milk. She was a bottle baby, so she’s more than happy to drink it!

 

… Will add more updates if they arise!

The Adventure of Duchess and her Broken Leg

So Duchess somehow managed to snap her leg in half. Bone protruding, the bottom part of her leg dangling free without any support, the whole deal. This is the goat who gets out of any fence known to man and clears 5 foot fences like a deer.

(Warning: graphic images!)

So we rush her to the vet while I practically lay on her, because she somehow thinks standing in a moving car instead of lying down with a broken leg is a good idea.

So the veterinarian is in surgery when we arrive. We wait about 15 minutes. Vet comes out and assesses, and gives Duchess some pain meds. Duchess proceeds to crash out on my lap.

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We wait for about 45 minutes, because it’s the day of emergencies apparently (then we realize it’s the full moon, and we understand).

Anyway, the vet returns. We need to carry her in to work on her leg. I’m sure that she’s going to thrash around, so the vet knocks her out. Wow, that stuff works like a charm. We carry her in on my ratty old sleeping bag, which has it’s second life as a gurney.

Duchess stops breathing. Vet has to intubate. Apparently, it’s really hard to intubate a goat, so we were all pretty sure for a few seconds there that she was going to die. But we finally get her breathing again after a few minutes.

It takes an hour and half to fully shave, clean, reset, wrap, cast, and take xrays of her leg.

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I wish I had taken a picture of the xrays! It was pretty fascinating actually, for the more scientific minded. I think you probably have to get used to a little gore working with animals, though I did need to look away when the vet pulled her bone back into alignment.

Back in the car, Duchess is waking up, but really drugged, but keeps trying to talk. So mostly I see a lot of lip twitching, blinking, occasional head throwing around and plaintive noises.

Of course, as soon as we got her back into her pen and went to leave, she woke up and jolted to her feet and yelled at us to come back.

But anyway. Here’s a funny picture of my very stoned goat after being returned to her pen. Look at her fancy bright red cast!

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For the next few days I’ll be giving her a shot to help with inflammation, and make sure that her cast doesn’t get wet. And I have another appointment with the vet in 5 days to check on everything, clean it, and have another antibiotic shot.

The biggest worry at this point is that an infection may form (since it was an open wound). I was told there was a possibility the bones may not fuse, and she’ll need orthopedic surgery… so here’s hoping her bones fuse! It’s going to be a rough month or two for this kiddo, especially since she’s the troublemaker of the group and just loooovvves to get out of everything and be a brat.

The positive news is that she gets alfalfa again to aid her healing! She can’t deny being happy about that.

 

UPDATE:

A little over a month later, the vet’s biggest worry is that the bone isn’t “bridging,” or starting to fuse. It’s possible it’s due to infection, so we loaded her up with a ton more antibiotics and another month of waiting.

Let’s hope the bone starts healing. Otherwise, if it’s a non-healing fracture (which is a possibility with the severity of the break), she’s going to become a three-legged goat.

That being said, she has MASTERED the three legged hop-run. The cast is no longer slowing her down in the slightest. And she’s pretty mad about being locked in a little pen all the time (the vet said she needed to stay ‘quiet’ to give her the best chance of the bone bridging).

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)?