Polio in Goats

By Judi Nayeri of Ma’s Acres Dairy Goats

Over the years I’ve received many calls about ill goats with polio-like symptoms. Many of those have been treated successfully, so I hope this will be helpful to you. My first experience with Polio was about ten years ago. A Nubian yearling was in a breeding pen. When I did my routine check, she was “down” in her hindquarters. No matter how hard she tried the best she could achieve was a sitting position. She was immediately transported to the ISU Veterinarian Clinic in Ames. She was treated for tetanus, bacterial infection and Polio. Happily she recovered fully. A few years later a goat “went down” at a very hot county fair. A vet was called and she was treated for Polio. She was also blind but within the next few weeks she recovered fully including her sight.

Polio in goats is not a contagious disease but a vitamin deficiency. Goats and other ruminants are dependent on Thiamine in the rumen which metabolizes glucose into carbohydrates. The carbohydrates are necessary to maintain healthy brain cells. When something occurs to disrupt the pH balance in the rumen, “friendly” Thiamine producing organisms can’t function causing a failure in the cascade causing brain cell death. Subsequent brain edema occurs causing a variety of neurological symptoms.

Neurological symptoms may include one or more of the following: weakness, staggering, tremors, blindness ( which may last several weeks after recovery), posturing, diarrhea, decreased appetite, increased aggression, increased temperature, increased respiratory rate, decreased heart rate or nystagmus (rapid eye movement). Rumen motility remains normal. Star-gazing is very common early symptom. Our goats are very attentive, when one stares past us, into space or ignores us (when not preoccupied) it is time for concern. Remember, anything that negatively affects the rumen environment can disrupt the “good” microorganisms, Bacillus sp., Clostridium Sporogenes, and B.aneurolyticus and hinder their Thiamine
production. The other consequence is to encourage organisms that produce Thiaminases which catabolize or break down the Thiamine. Either way the result is Thiamine deficiency. A major cause is feeding a diet rich in concentrate ration and low in roughage. Other causes may include but are not limited to prolonged treatment with higher than recommended doses of Corid (amprolium), deworming, grazing on recently fertilized pasture, high sulfur intake (as from water), and rarely published but one of the most common causes I have seen, STRESS.

There are several diseases which can mimic Polio. CAE, Listeriosis, Enterotoxemia, Toxemia of Pregnancy, grain poisoning, plant poisoning, Rabies and Tetanus, most commonly Tetanus and Listeriosis. Tetanus can be differentiated by tickling the eyelid; if the third eyelid flashes across the eye that is pathonomic for tetanus otherwise it is Polio. Also in Tetanus the joints cannot be manually bent while in Polio they are flexible. It is sometimes advantageous to treat with Procaine Penicillin to cover Listeriosis, in doses high enough to cross the blood-brain barrier. Use 1.5ml/25# body weight or 6ml per 100# body weight of 300,000 Iu/ml. Tetanus can be covered with 1cc of Tetanus antitoxin.

Treatment of the thiamine deficiency is simple. The literature varies greatly on dose, route and frequency of treatment. I usually use 1-2cc of 200mg/ml on a small kid and 6-8 cc on an adult animal, IM. This can be repeated in 24 hours if needed. I called a ruminant veterinarian at ISU and he suggested 5mg/ # IM or if the animal is extremely ill 5mg/# IM and IV simultaneously. Repeat injection daily for 2-3 days if necessary. Thiamine is cheap and it is water soluble so overdose is not a concern. The animal will excrete anything it doesn’t use. You won’t overdose.

Most of the literature talks of a winter disease, but actually, it is a year ’round disease. My cases have always been in the summer when they are in milk and pushing feed based on production. In the winter my goats are on maintenance only. In summer we are also under a lot more stress with showing and weaning. Remember, early treatment is the key. Last summer my son was walking through the barn and noticed a doeling standing in a corner with tremors and staggering when she walked. She was treated immediately, she was stronger in 10-15 minutes and fully recovered in about thirty minutes, but we did continue to watch her for 24 hours. Length of recovery will depend on how long the animal has been sick. If unsure, it is
better to treat the animal than risk losing the goat. If you wait, by 2-3 days it will be too late. Remember Thiamine is water soluble; you can’t harm a goat by misdiagnosis or over treatment. If unsure, TREAT.

Thiamine is cheap but it is prescription so get some from your vet as well as procaine Penicillin and TAT and keep these on hand. Goats never get sick when the vet is in. You can always call the vet in the morning to follow-up, but TREAT ASAP.

Information provided is general in nature and is provided without guarantee as to results. The information is not intended to be and should not be construed as legal advice.

14 thoughts on “Polio in Goats”

  1. My granddaughter is treating a young kid with shots of B and PCN for what the vet believes is goat polio. He gets almost normal then becomes very weak again. Is this fluctuation common? We have added B1 to his milk bottle as figure it cannot hurt but it comes with calcium if you read the fine print. Will that hurt him. He is the sweetest thing and it is breaking our hearts.

    1. Sue, I will share your question with a couple goat breeders. It’s not possible to overdose the thiamin – if it is goat polio, perhaps he needs a bit more, and a bit more frequently, even every 6 hours, and keep it up until 24-36 hrs after he seems back to normal. I don’t believe he can use it orally, it has to be given as a shot for his body to process it. But it certainly won’t hurt him! What exactly are his symptoms, is he just lethargic or is it more than that? It couldn’t be something perhaps simpler like floppy kid?…withhold milk and just give him water with baking soda for 36-48 hrs.

  2. I have a kid that we are treating for polio she has had 2 shots now and is not responding yet, she is having worse tremors now and I think she has now gone blind is it too late should we euthanize her or is recover still possible 🙁 she is about 8 weeks and I believe it was caused by the stress of weaning her this last week

  3. I have a goat that I am treating for polio and is not responding yet, he is having worse tremors now and I think he is going blind is it too late should I euthanise him or will he recover?

    1. Hi Katie – webmaster here, I also sent you an e-mail. It is not too late! I had a goat go blind and she was near death, she made a complete recovery. Keep giving him thiamin, I would do 6 cc every 4 or 6 hours until he starts responding to it, then I’d go to every 12 hours and once he seems normal I would do once a day for a couple days. Also you’ll probably want to deworm him and treat him for coccidia as the stress of the polio can cause other things to flare up, just be on the alert for that. Keep us posted?

  4. I’m treating a baby goat 8 weeks old with 1/2 cc thiamine 500mg/ml every 4-6 hours I don’t know his weight he was a runt and he is a Nigerian dwarf I’m dosing him at 10lbs the bottle from the vet says 1.5cc per 100lbs should I be giving more? Should I also be giving b complex he has a very weak suckle but is getting a bottle every time he gets a shot and is taking 6 oz at those times he’s not blind but is weak in the legs can’t stand and was yesterday I started treatment today so he has had 2 doses and seems a little stronger. Thanks so much!

  5. Our Nigerian Dwarf died yesterday from this! We called vet and thought he would pull through but didn’t! What causes this? Did we not catch it in time? The kids where just playing with him the night before!

    1. Hi Jen – this is Guinevere McIntyre. I’m so sorry! It can move very fast and often the vets miss it and treat for side issues.

  6. We have a year old boer goat that we noticed on Sunday wasn’t acting right and starting to star gaze. We got her out of pen and started treating with 6cc of 2000mg/ml thiamine and 6cc of dexamethasone iv, and then every 6 hours: 6cc of thiamine and 10cc of procaine penicillin. Also I gave her 10g of Probias morning and night. Come Monday afternoon she seemed to be getting better. Then Tuesday afternoon she started to go back downhill and has been either staying the same or progressing a little worse. I’m lost here and don’t know what else to do for her but I also don’t want to give up on her too early. Please help with any advise you have.

    1. I give her a Vitamin B-Complex shot and forget the penicillin; probiotics ok;

    2. I am curious as to what the outcome was for your goat if you don’t mind me asking. Mine is currently under the same treatment right now.

  7. Hello, I was helping a fried treat her 5 yo Boer buck who has been losing weight over a month or so and despite being put in a pen by himself with hay and a small amount of grain each day, he was getting weaker and not eating well. She wormed him with Valbazen two weeks ago, no difference. He had been moved to her place about five weeks ago, and we are going into winter mode with slow growing pasture, so he was getting grass hay and then had the pasture to forage. Because there was a ram in with the goats, my friend was only providing an all-stock type mineral supplement, which means no copper. Not sure of his copper supplementation before being moved. I had a secondary copper deficiency at my place that led to all kinds of problems, polio seeming to be one of them despite my not feeding concentrates and the livestock living on pasture. My pasture here only has 1 mg/lb.

    This buck did not have diarrhea but his stool was big globs, not pelleted. We checked his eyelid color and it was quite pale, so anemia. We wormed him again with fenbendazole, and bolused him with a Copasure bolus. I’d read that copper deficiency could cause anemia and weight loss, and I lost a heifer that way, not realizing the deficiency due to high molybdenum.

    At any rate, this goat also had tremors and was lying down, not wanting to get up. Thankfully I had thiamine on hand and we gave him 500 mg SQ and 500 mg IM. Within half an hour, while we were chatting, he got up and went over to eat hay. The owner reported later in the day that he was eating with more gusto, standing at the hay feeder and also pigged down some grain. I know grain might not be indicated now but she had been slowly introducing it to him trying to get calories into him.

    So, it would seem polio was in the works, yes? He will be dosed again for the next couple of days until it is certain he is acting and eating normally. My question is, can a copper deficiency set them up for polio? It seemed linked at my old farm. He is anemic and it isn’t certain that he has a parasite problem, and the wormer wouldn’t have caused him to turn around that fast. But he is anemic – is it parasites or copper deficiency? I guess we won’t know now because he has been wormed, fecal might be negative. I just haven’t seen anything in the literature linking the two.
    Thank you!

  8. This seems to be what my goat has but we are treating it late. The initial thought was a GI related thing because she kept getting into my chicken grain. Gave her some Pepto and small amount of baking soda and thought she was improving by next day. At day three she looked terrible. Very unsteady gait, watering eye, grinding teeth. Vet thought pneumonia, gave steroids, fluids, antiinflammatory for her fever, and a shot of thiamine. Day five she looked more interested in eating, gait really unsteady. Gave electrolytes. Day five she looked like she was dying, unable to stand, head cocked back. But then she had stood an hour later when I checked to see if she passed and took water. Called the vet, continued with electrolytes and got in 24 oz that day. The next day she looked worse. When she hadn’t passed at the four hour mark I stumbled upon goat polio. Called the vet and started the thiamine q6 x4 which completed this morning, gave steroids and fluids both sq and Po. She looks really bad but has been putting some weight on legs with sling….seems paralyzed on left side- head keeps turning that way, drooling and tongue falling. Am I holding on too much at this point? Have they come back when they are this sick and this many days in?

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