Disclaimer: I am not a vet. This blog is a summary of my experiences with a weak kid. In no way do I claim that the medications, doses and therapies I outline in this blog will work or be correct for any other situation, they are simply what worked for me.
I’ve just spent a week rehabilitating a weak kid. Although at times this looked like a lost cause, she has made the transition from almost dead to almost normal in the past seven days. The internet was of some help, but it was hard to find specific and creative solutions that worked. I was bound and determined to get this goat back to health, and as a result came up with some off-the-wall solutions… solutions that really seemed to work. Maybe my experience can be of help to someone else with unhealthy kids. If this baby could be rehabilitated, I think there’s hope for pretty much any kid.
A week ago today my seasoned milker Endo gave birth to triplets. This was the first time she had more than two kids, and although she’s normally an excellent mom, there were problems from the start. The first kid looked healthy enough, but it quickly became apparent that the second and third were not as thrifty as they should be. The second kid was weak, and dragging his hind legs a bit, the third, my first doeling from Endo, was a mess. Her hind ankles were turned completely backwards, feet towards the sky, her hind legs appeared completely useless and dragged along behind her as she crawled on her front knees. Her right hip was collapsed in under her body, it looked almost like the hip was dislocated, although I could tell by feeling it that it was just a case of some seriously tight muscles and tendons. She was much smaller than her brothers, as well. After a couple of hours the boys had managed to nurse, but she didn’t seem interested or able. I milked out some colostrum into a bottle and offered it to her. Although she drank, it wasn’t enthusiastic. I gave all 3 kids a shot of Selenium, the first course of action for any weak goat baby. I did some internet research and time and time again was re-assured that if I just left her alone the problems would likely straighten out in a day or two. I was skeptical, but decided to wait and see what the selenium shot could do.
Note: The product I used is Selon-E. There is no recommended dose for goats on the label, but the dose for lambs is 1/4ml for prevention and 1/2 ml for treatment. I spread the 1/2 ml intramuscular injection over 2 days. Selenium deficiency results in the symptoms I was seeing in these kids (White Muscle Disease). Selenium deficiency is common in many areas, but there is a very fine line between too little selenium and too much selenium. Too much selenium causes selenium toxicity, which apparently produces the same symptoms as selenium deficiency, and can also lead to death. For this reason, I was hesitant to give too much at once. On some Forums people recommend giving the suggested doses for 4-7 days in a row. This seems ill-advised to me, given the small margin of error between deficiency and toxicity so, tempting as it was, I did not exceed the recommended dose.
Day 2. I entered the barn in the morning to find one of the boys – the first-born and healthiest- dead. It looked like his mother had laid on him. The second boy was nursing and Endo was attentive to him, but the girl was curled up in a corner, not doing much, and I decided to pull her from her mother and place her in a crate with a heat lamp. I bottle fed her frequently, but she didn’t seem even slightly interested in trying to stand up. It wasn’t looking great.
Day 3. I went out for the morning feeding and found the little doeling lying on her side, eyes half closed. I thought I had lost her too, but as I approached she lifted her head and let out a little noise. I decided that if there was any hope, she had to come into the warm house. We set up a crate and brought the little one inside. She was crusted in yellow diarrhea, which was oozing steadily from her hind end. I bathed her and dried her, then tried to feed her some milk, which I’d taken from her mom. She wasn’t really interested, no sucking instinct, but when I squirted a small amount into her mouth she did swallow it. I fed her a little at a time over the course of the day. By the evening her diarrhea was starting to firm up and she was taking the bottle a little more eagerly. I read that giving extra vitamin E would help with selenium absorption, so I went to the drugstore and bought a bottle of Vitamin E gel caps. I poked one with a thumbtack and squeezed the contents into her mouth. Finally I re-examined her hind legs and found that they hadn’t improved even slightly. I decided it was time to apply splints.
I splinted the ankles first using Vetrap tape (one of the most useful things you can have in your first aid kit), bamboo skewers, and masking tape. I placed the ankle in the correct position, wrapped it twice with the Vetrap, snugly, but being careful not to go too tight and risk cutting off circulation. Then I cut the bamboo skewers down so I had two pieces about a couple of inches long. I placed one behind the ankle and one in front, then secured the whole works in place with masking tape. I was careful to use as little material for the splints as possible…I figured she didn’t need extra weight or bulk complicating her mobility issues.
Day 4. My little goat was starting to poop normally. She was also taking the bottle like a pro and screaming her head off when she was hungry (in true Nubian form). She was finally standing on her own although the right leg, the one with the really deformed hip, was still a wet noodle. We started a physio program, stretching the leg and moving it through a full range of motion, massaging the muscles, particularly around the hip, and pulling the leg in ways that made her try to pull it away from us… an attempt to help stimulate the muscle and build some strength. It didn’t take long before we could start to feel an improvement. I finally felt hopeful that she was going to make it, so I gave her a name. Her legs reminded me of a sticky disc brake, so I called her Caliper, Cali for short.
Day 5. I removed the ankle splints and was happy to see that one ankle had corrected to the proper position. The other (the one on the worst leg) was a little better, but still bent backwards. I re-splinted the bad one, but I was delighted to see that one leg was now completely normal. Cali began to walk on the three good legs, dragging the worst leg along as she went. We continued the physio, and I diligently placed the bum leg under her over and over in the correct position as she went. Occasionally she would stand with it in the right position, but as soon as she started moving again, the leg would go limp and drag. This was very frustrating for me, I knew there had to be something more effective than me following along and picking up her leg for her. I decided to splint her hock so that her lower leg was forced into the proper position. It was a bit more challenging to splint than the ankles, but after a few tries I found something that seemed to work.
To splint the hock, I placed it in the proper position and wrapped it in Vetrap. I found a fairly thick piece of cardboard and cut out two L shapes at slightly less than a 90° angle. I taped these on either side of the hock to force the hock back and the foot forward.
Once splinted, she began hobbling around fairly well, but that hip still wanted to turn under, and the foot continued to drag. I watched her for a while and then an idea popped into my head for a very simple, but potentially helpful device to get her walking as she should. Immediately after I put it on her she began walking almost normally. I’m calling my brilliant invention 🙂 the Splay-No-More. It worked like a charm.
The Splay-No-More is a bunch of elastic bands linked together. Seriously, that’s it. I created the “harness” section first by selecting two bands that I could slide up her front legs and allow to sit loosely around the top. I joined these two bands together by linking just enough elastics to span over her back snugly, but not tightly. Then I found an elastic that was about the same size as her ankle. I linked a bunch of bands together to form a chain from that band to the harness, just above the leg strap. It took a bit of trial and error to get the right length… it had to be just long enough to be slightly taught without pulling too much. The idea was to prevent her bum leg from splaying backwards, but to force her to use her own muscles to move the leg as she walked.
Day 6. We continued physio, adding an exercise where we’d get her to stand squarely, and then pick her good back leg and opposite front leg off the ground, forcing her to balance on her bad back leg and opposite front leg. This really seemed to help her understand where that back leg needed to be. I removed the hock splint, and saw that the hock seemed happy to stay bent the way it should be. I let her walk around the dining room wearing the Splay-No-More and it wasn’t long before she was actually running. I put a few obstacles in her path and she climbed over them. Very exciting. I found that if I detached the Splay-No-More from her foot, she could actually take a few steps normally before the back leg began to drag again, and even when it did, the drag was far less severe. She was using those muscles a bit.
Day 7. She can walk normally! The bad leg looks a little stiff, it might be in part to the splint that is still on that ankle, but the leg doesn’t really drag anymore, the hip is square, and she can walk on all four. I’ll take that splint off tomorrow and see how the ankle is looking. She’s going out to the barn for a play date with the other kids today. Exciting!
Seven days ago Troy told me not to get my hopes up, but I’m glad I did. It’s taken a lot of time and patience, but a week later I now have a very chatty, friendly and rambunctious future milker to add to my herd. Cali was worth every bit of trouble we went through to rehabilitate her.
Sprocket’s little girl was born a few days ago with a gimpy leg too, but thankfully she straightened it out on her own. Although I’ve never given selenium shots to my pregnant does in the past, it’s a practice I’m going to adopt starting next year. I think it’s probably far easier to treat the doe prior to kidding than to deal with affected kids after the fact. Another lesson learned.
The moral of the story for all you goat owners out there is don’t give up no matter how bad it seems. If there was hope for Cali, there is hope for every kid. It might take a lot of commitment on your part, but in my mind, a lifetime of goat is well worth it. I think Cali agrees.