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.

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