Blocked Goats and Sheep 101

Blocked Goats and Sheep 101

Tuesdays with Tony

A few weeks ago, we talked about being extra careful to monitor your male cats’ litter box usage due to the risk of urinary obstruction. We’re now going to talk about a similar topic in a different (louder, much less refined) species: goats and sheep. While the general problem is the same, the specifics are a bit different, so let’s get into it.

This disease is an unfortunately common one of the castrated male small ruminant, and is known as obstructive urolithiasis, though more simply called urinary blockage. For the purposes of this review, I’ll mostly be talking about goats because they tend to be the main pet species around here, but the same things apply to sheep.

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A quick terminology review for the uninitiated human: intact male goats are known as bucks, intact male sheep are known as rams, and castrated males of either species are known as wethers. There’s a saying that goes around the sheep and goat circles: “friends don’t let friends have pet wethers.” I don’t know why anyone would want to be owned by anything other than a cat, but perhaps I’m biased.

Wethers have a bad habit of accumulating grit and stones in their urinary tract due to diet and inadequate water intake. The disease is most common in the castrated males because the lack of testosterone prevents widening of their urethra at specific points. This means there are a few very, very narrow areas along the offramp from the bladder where they can get a fatal traffic jam!

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so let’s go over prevention of obstructive urolithiasis in wethers. Well, it can start as simply as when they become wethers. Waiting to have a veterinarian surgically castrate a buckling until he’s 6-7 months of age is ideal as it will give him more time for his urethra to mature and widen. The important caveat to this is that bucklings can become fertile as early as 3-4 months of age, so they’ll need to be separated from female goats (including their mother) for that time to prevent unwanted pregnancies. If separation is not possible, surgical castration at 3-4 months is still preferred over banding as birth control for pet animals.

If you do have a wether, especially if he was castrated very early, the easiest and most effective prevention strategy is to ONLY feed him roughage and browse. Translated: no grain; none, zero, zilch. Pet wethers don’t need it, ever. Also, avoid feeding them too much alfalfa hay. Instead, feed them a nice grass hay and let them browse. Goats are natural browsers and prefer eating shrubs, bushes, and trees that are more than 6-8 inches above the ground. They would absolutely love to clear wooded areas of your property for you, and that browse is the healthiest thing for them to eat.

There are dietary supplements that can be used in certain situations, especially if goats need to be on concentrate feeds for showing or other reasons. Talk to your veterinarian for details about what is best for your herd, but your average pet wether will do his best by just browsing the pasture and being supplemented with a decent quality grass hay.

There are a few different types of stones that goats can develop, but it will be difficult for them to develop any stones if their urine is dilute. This means you have to encourage your goats and sheep to drink water, and monitor them to make sure they do.

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There should be multiple clean water sources in each area where livestock are housed, and they should be cleaned out regularly. White water tubs draw your human eyes to dirt and debris, since you don’t have discerning taste like a cat does. Automatic waterers are great, but only if they work well and are clean. Sheep especially will be unwilling to leave the flock for a faraway water source, so make sure there are multiple sources near the food to limit competition.

Even with proper dietary management and plenty of water sources, some wethers are just unlucky–they don’t have 9 lives like me–and they can still develop this condition and block. So now let’s talk about how to figure out if your goat might be blocked and what to do about it.  

First off, any time a wether isn’t acting like himself, the very first thing to rule out is urinary blockage. Watch him for a bit to see if you can see him urinating or trying to urinate. If you have the ability to move him to a freshly bedded stall, that will often be enough to encourage a goat to urinate. I get it, a fresh litter box is one of life’s greatest joys. Vocalizing while urinating is not normal for goats or sheep, neither is parking out and positioning without producing any urine. Seeing either of those things most definitely warrants a call to that veterinarian you have a great relationship with.

Now, here comes the not-so-exciting news. Most of the time, urinary blockage in wethers requires referral to a hospital for surgical management. If it’s his first time blocking and he isn’t super down in the dumps yet, your veterinarian may be able to come out remove something called the urethral process, which is the final part of his urinary tract, and sometimes is the source of the blockage. This procedure requires sedation and pain management and should only be done by a veterinary professional. Many wethers will block again after this procedure, and soon, but it can sometimes buy time to get them to a hospital for surgical management.

If urinary stones are obtained from removing the urethral process or found in the preputial hair, they should be submitted to the scientist-type humans for analysis. This stone analysis, plus a review of diet and management, are the necessary steps to determining what interventions the wether will need to prevent re-obstruction in the future. Calcium carbonate stones are very hard to manage, but removing sources of high calcium like alfalfa can be beneficial. Struvite type stones can be managed by acidifying the urine through dietary supplementation as directed by your veterinarian.

There is no one plan that will work for all goats or sheep, all stones, or all situations to prevent re-obstruction. The best plan is good husbandry and management of all goats: stop feeding grain, offer grass hay or pasture, and make sure they have more than adequate access to clean, fresh water. Use a goat or sheep-specific mineral and not one meant for horses or other livestock. Management matters, as does having a great relationship with your veterinarian.

If you’re in Springhill’s practice range, that veterinarian can be Dr. Speziok. She offers Herd Evaluations for goats and sheep that allow for the creation of an individualized management plan for your specific situation. Give my minions a call at 352-472-1620 to make an appointment.

Until next week,

~Tony

P.S. As a goat person, you’ll definitely want to check out the goat videos on my YouTube Channel. My docs will teach you how to do a FAMACHA score to check for parasites, check your goat or sheep’s body condition score, and more. Make sure you subscribe to the channel, as new content goes up every month. You’re welcome.

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Sheep and Goat Parasite Management

Sheep and Goat Parasite Management

Tuesdays with Tony

I’ve waxed poetic more than once on parasite control in horses and donkeys, which I’ve summed up succinctly as: “deworm less.” Well, today I’m here to talk about that same thing in goats and sheep (spoiler alert, the sum-up will be similar). Dr. Speziok has only been here for a few months, but I’ve already listened to her spiel on small ruminant parasites more times than I can count. So, let’s talk about the major parasites of our cloven-hooved friends and, more importantly, how to manage them.

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Let’s Meet the Contestants

There are four different worms that love to cause problems in ruminant guts, and just like the boy bands of yesteryear, they have an acronym: HOTC.

HOTC stands for: Haemonchus, Ostertagia, Trichostrongylus, and Cooperia. These “big four” cause all kinds of issues for sheep and goats and can make them very, very sick. We talk about them as a group because when we do our fecal egg counts (similar, but a bit more complicated to the fecals we do on horses once a year), they all look the same under the microscope, so we count them together.

In most sheep and goats, the species called Haemonchus contortus is the main player. Otherwise known as the Barberpole worm, it lives in the abomasum (the last chamber of the 4-chamber stomach) and small intestine and sucks blood for a living.

What Do They Do?

These tiny-but-mighty blood feeders lead to anemia, edema, emaciation, and GI distress. Sheep and goats can lose weight, have pale mucous membranes, high FAMACHA scores, and bottle jaw.

These pesky pests can even hide in their hosts by going into a dormant state called hypobiosis when they sense the weather would be unfavorable for eggs on the pasture. In the south, this is basically only the hottest part of summer, but even then they never really go away. In this hypobiotic state, the larvae are significantly more resistant to dewormers and only a few products even stand a chance against them.

Why do sheep and goats seem so sensitive to their little intestinal passengers? Well, they mostly evolved to live on mountain tops away from warm, moist environments that harbor parasites. So when we bring them to the southeastern US, their little guts have no idea what to do with all these worms!

Drug Resistance

Unfortunately, just like with horses, you humans used to think that deworming very often and with rotating products was the way to go. It was very much not, as we know now, and it has only worsened the major parasite resistance issues we’re dealing with.

Doctor’s orders here: avoid deworming on any type of routine or schedule. Deworming needs to be targeted and adjusted based on individual animals as directed by the veterinarian you have a great relationship with. Parasite resistance is a very large, very real problem that we can only fight by being strategic. What works for one farm will not work for another, and the history of an individual animal is vital to making these protocol decisions. No more blanket approach!

FAMACHA Score

One of the most important skills and duties of a sheep or goat owner is to perform regular FAMACHA score checks. No, that’s not another boy band. It’s an anemia scoring system developed in South Africa to help small ruminant owners monitor the health of their animals. I’ve watched Dr. Speziok demonstrate this system to just about every goat owner that’s come to Springhill, so make sure your veterinarian shows you how to do it! FAMACHA scores are judged by the mucous membranes on the inside of the lower eyelids.

To expose the mucous membranes, have the animal in an area with good light and use an assistant to help restrain them if necessary. Use the thumb of your upper hand to COVER the eye, then to PUSH the eye slightly into the socket. Use the thumb of your lower hand to PULL the lower eyelid down, and watch the mucous membranes POP into view. This does not hurt the animal, and if it’s done weekly or monthly on a regular basis, it will become routine for them.

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The basic premise of FAMACHA is the darker the pink color of those mucous membranes, the better the goat is doing. The details of the scoring system and how it is used is one of those things that are best learned in person, so have your veterinarian show you how to use this scoring system next time you see them.

Deworming Protocols

Protocols will vary based on an individual herd or flock, but the main point is that all deworming of small ruminants should be based on the individual animals’ FAMACHA score and their fecal egg count. Checking those mucous membrane colors can become part of your farm routine, and when they are pale, collect a fecal sample for your veterinarian to analyze. Those two things together determine when a dewormer should be used. If there are resistance issues on your farm, your veterinarian may need you to give two different dewormers at the same time. This attacks those annoying worms from multiple attack angles, giving us a better chance of killing them.

I know you humans love to focus on the medications we animals need, but management strategies are often the most important things you can do. Feeding sheep and goats above the ground and keeping their pens clean will help prevent them from reinfecting themselves and each other with the parasites they shed. If you are breeding your small ruminants, do not breed those that constantly require deworming. Try to have dams lamb or kid in a clean, dry pen with minimal other adult animals.

Work with your veterinarian to manage the overall health of your animals, which will help them better fight off parasites. Dr. Speziok is now offering a herd/flock evaluation where you can learn some awesome tips and tricks for making your small ruminants as happy and healthy as they can be!

Until next week,

~ Tony

P.S. Have you subscribed to my blog, or are you just hoping that you’ll see it on Facebook? Be a good human and scroll down to that big purple box and subscribe, and not only will you get my blog in your email, you’ll get it a day before everyone else! That’s a purr-fect reason if you ask me.

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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