Goat urinary stones or calculi blockages in dwarf breeds of goats is more common than you might think. You may have heard this illness called water belly or obstructive urolithiasis. If you haven’t tried to help a goat with urinary stones, you might not be aware of the causes, symptoms, and possible treatments available for the suffering goat.
Once you’ve seen a goat that is in pain from a urinary stone blockage, you will think suffering is a mild way of describing it. We’ve had only one clash with this condition in a goat, and an advanced case in an older sheep wether, years ago. In the case of the sheep, we were unable to save him. With the goat, we tried different, more extreme measures and he is surviving and now thriving.
Before continuing, I want you to know that I am in no way giving you veterinary advice. In fact, in Trevor’s case, with urinary stones, in the end, we went completely off script. We made up a protocol that made sense to us as a last ditch effort. We gathered advice from other goat breeders and goat keepers. And we used a pain reliever/anti-inflammatory medicine for goats that had been prescribed for another animal.
Judge me all you want. We had a dying 14 week old kid on our hands that was in pain, screaming, and could only pass drops of urine at a time, due to the urinary stones. I thought his bladder might explode, because his belly was so tight. In our opinion, as long time goat owners and livestock keepers, it was time for a Hail Mary pass. We threw the entire kitchen sink at the little fellow.
And it worked.
Trevor’s Story with Urinary Stones
Trevor was born on another farm, about 14 weeks before we adopted him and his sister, Annabelle. The farm notified us that another little goat had just died from urinary stones. The farmer realized he realized he needed to trim his goat herd. He was looking to rehome the last two kids. I volunteered to take them.
The male kids had been wethered early to prevent any unwanted breedings. In addition to being wethered earlier than recommended, Trevor and the rest of the goats had access to a lot of grain.
Over years of research, veterinarians and other goat farmers have come to realize that early neutering combined with heavy grain feeding (especially improperly balanced feeds)leads to an increase in urinary stones. In the dwarf goat breeds, Nigerian dwarf goats in particular, the blockage is often fatal.
Does this Happen in All Goats or Just Dwarf Goat Breeds?
The condition is not limited to Nigerian Dwarf goats but the small size of these goats adds to the problem. Once a male kid or lamb is castrated, either by banding or surgically, the urethra growth stops. Castration before the urinary tract has reached full growth leaves a very narrow urethra, and increases the chance that calculi will block the tube completely.
Adding in excess grain feeding, to support growth or keep them happy, further increases the likelihood of urinary stones forming. The urinary stones can become lodged at any point in the urethra, causing partial or complete blockage.
What Are Urinary Stones Made Of?
Urinary stones are comprised of non absorbed phosphate salts. The main cause of urinary stone formation occurs when feed percentages of calcium and phosphorus are improperly balanced.
When small ruminants are fed a balanced diet combined with forage and hay, excess phosphorus is in the saliva, and excreted through feces. If grain is overfed, or is improperly formulated, and contains excess phosphorus, the excess ends up being excreted through the urinary tract. Lack of water can also play a part in urinary stones.
Now add in early neutering, thus stopping urethra growth, and you have all the pieces in place for a perfect storm. Bucks, rams, and females can have urinary stones, but have a better chance of eliminating the calculi.
Signs of Urinary Stones in Goats and Sheep
Trevor began yelling on a Sunday evening. Since his brother had died from urinary stones, I was watching for any symptoms.
Trevor exhibited the classic signs of urinary tract blockage. Having seen it in our wethered sheep, it was easily recognized. No fever was present.
The constant cries, the stretched out stance, and the rejection of food gave me a pit in my stomach. Other possible symptoms could be biting at their sides, swollen abdomen, straining to urinate, dribbling urine with no stream, and a swollen penis.
First thing in the morning I called our livestock vet, and brought Trevor right to his office. The vet agreed with my non-professional diagnosis and examined Trevor. Unfortunately the blockage was not near the opening, or urethral process, of the penis. When the blockage is near the opening, a procedure can be done that snips off the urethral process.
I opted to have the vet insert a catheter to try to dislodge the blockage. This did not work since Trevor is so small. The smallest catheter was still too large. Dwarf goat breeds are very tiny.
The Vet’s Protocol
Trevor was started on a sedative in hopes that is would allow the urethra to relax and allow passage of urine. In addition, children’s aspirin tablets could be given for pain and inflammation. We watched for improvement.
After a few days, the vet said we could not keep Trevor on sedatives any longer and would have to rely on just the children’s aspirin to help manage the obstructed urethra.
What We Did
At this point, I was not feeling very optimistic about Trevor’s prognosis. While he was not continuously crying, the urine was only drips now and then.
I began massaging his abdomen, from the bladder towards the penis. Often this helped release some additional drops of urine.
Apple cider vinegar (2 tablespoons per two gallons of water) to help acidify the urine and help break up the urinary stones. 1 teaspoon of ammonium chloride added to the water to further acidify.
Drench twice a day with a mixture of water, ammonium chloride, and apple cider vinegar. (12 ounces water, 2 tablespoons ACV, 1 teaspoon of ammonium chloride) From this I pulled 20 cc into a drench gun, administered twice a day to further acidify the urine.
At this point, Trevor still had a very poor appetite. Vitamin B complex was given orally according to label directions. Administered once per day. This helped him regain his appetite and he quickly began eating more forage.
And One More Thing
A goat owning friend offered me some prescription Banamine. This pain reliever is often used as a medication for urinary stones. My vet preferred his decision to use the sedative, Acepromezine.
I gladly accepted the gift of Banamine from my friend. At this point, there was little left to try and if the Banamine didn’t help Trevor, I was prepared to euthanize him. This was no life for a baby goat.
Do You Believe in Miracles?
I do. I think that the Banamine pushed Trevor’s condition into healing status. By the second dose of Banamine, Tevor’s swollen abdomen and distended bladder reduced noticeably.
I also think that the other measures we were following helped keep Trevor alive and comfortable enough to keep eating. Trevor continued to improve and is now weeks past the initial illness.
Trevor will always be more susceptible to bouts of urinary stones. Because of this there are some strict protocols in place for Trevor. These protocols might save his life, and they pose no risk to Annabelle, the female goat in the same stall.
Frequent water changes. During the cold spells, room temperature water is brought from home for their bucket.
2 Tablespoons of apple cider vinegar added to the water at all times.
Ammonium Chloride salt added to the balanced grain ration. Also, the grain amount is kept to no more than 3/4 cup a day, split into two feedings. At this time ammonium chloride is no longer being added to the bucket of water.
Fresh hay is always available.
Future Care and Prognosis
The protocol in place is no different than what should have been happening. It became more important than ever, since Trevor is predisposed to urinary stones. I was using ammonium chloride and ACV with our goats and sheep but honestly I was not adhering to a strict schedule. I am now making sure all of our small ruminants are given a top dressing of ammonium chloride each day.
Right now, Trevor is a happy healthy playful kid. That makes all we did for him during his two week acute illness worth it.
Urinary Stones and Holistic Approach
I have no scientific study data that what we did for Trevor had any impact on his survival. My instinct tell me it did. The Banamine might have pushed him over the edge to complete healing but the rest of the measures kept him alive and fighting.
I also believe there is great power in the healing touch. Because we handled Trevor twice a day, talking to him, syringing fluids and massaging his abdomen, he felt loved and cared for. Animals as well as humans are responsive to this. I believe our efforts gave Trevor the strength to fight.
I hope you never have to experience urinary stones with dwarf goat breeds or sheep. If you do, I encourage you to call your vet at the first signs of difficulty or pain. Wait until 16 weeks to neuter males. Give ammonium chloride with grain. And go with your gut to a certain extent. Holistic methods may be unproven but that doesn’t mean that these methods are not worth a try.