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The Three Goat Diseases Every Goat Owner Needs to Know About

Whether you're new to the goat world, or you've been here a while, there's a lot of fear-based information about common goat diseases. While there are a handful that can be deadly, and devastating to your operation, most of them can be managed.

Today, however, we're talking about the three goat diseases that are discussed the most.

These are the ones that you'll see pop up on internet forums, in Facebook communities, and that you'll hear about from your goat farming friend down the road.

So, to make sure you're on the same page as your goat veterinarian and can keep your head on straight when the names of these diseases start flying around.

Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE)

What is Caprine Arthritis Enchephalitis?

CAE is an extremely contagious disease (as most on this list are). It’s a complex disease that can lead to death or illness in goats.

Unfortunately, it's also a disease that can incubate for a long time before symptoms are present (or it can be detected by diagnostic tests). This attributes to its ability to pass between goats without detection.

What are the Symptoms of CAE in Goats?

CAE can present in five different forms:

Arthritis: Swollen, painful, joints.

Encephalitis: Swelling of the brain in developing goats. Can cause blindness, seizures, and death.

Mastitic: Causes hard, swollen udders, and a decrease in milk production.

Pneumonic: Causes respiratory distress, pneumonia, and may cause death

Chronic Wasting: Inability to absorb nutrition...this leads to starvation.

While these are the most common forms and symptoms, it can also cause other less obvious issues.

For example, when immunity is decreased, worms and coccidia can take over which could cause a slew of other problems (like anemia or dehydration).

Will CAE Kill my Goat?

Yes, CAE is a terminal illness in goats in most of its forms. With that being said, pneumonia can be managed but often the disease causes such low immune system response that other problems pile on.

Encephalitis almost always causes death. But arthritis mostly causes pain, and an inability to maintain mobilities, which can lead to starvation or dehydration. May goat owners choose to cull their arthritic goats due to the poor quality of life the goat experiences. In other words, the amount of pain they’re in.

Quality of life must be monitored if a goat is diagnosed with CAE. And, most importantly, the goat must be quarantined from the rest of the herd.

How is CAE transmitted?

While CAE can spread like wildfire in a herd, it is most commonly spread from doe to kid through colostrum and milk.

Adults do not always contract it, but it may be spread through bodily fluids.

How is CAE Diagnosed

CAE is diagnosed through blood serum tests. With that being said, some goats may give false negatives due to the lack of antibodies at the time of testing. This is one reason it is recommended to test the herd regularly.

How is CAE Treated

Unfortunately, only the symptoms of CAE can be treated to keep the animal comfortable.

Johnes Disease

What is Johne's Disease?

Johne's disease is a fatal infection that affects a goat's small intestine, causing an inability to absorb the nutrition needed to thrive.

What are the Symptoms of Johne's Disease in Goats?

While symptoms are not always present until years after being infected, the symptoms are:

  • Weight loss

  • Inability to gain weight

  • Diarrhea

  • Adema under the jaw

Can a Goat Die from Johne's Disease?

In almost all cases, Johne's disease will cause death due to the inability to absorb nutrition, dehydration, or other illness.

How is Johne's Disease Transmitted

Johne's disease is transmitted through infected manure, colostrum, milk, and possibly while in the womb.

How is it Diagnosed?

Johne's disease can be diagnosed via blood sample or a fecal sample. With that being said, if the goat isn't currently shedding the disease, the results may not be accurate.

Regular testing and good recordkeeping are recommended for newer herds or herds where new animals are introduced. Luckily, once the herd is established as a clean herd, and maintained as a closed herd, testing can be less regular.

How is Johne's Treated

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for Johne's disease. And since it spreads so easily, it is often advised to cull confirmed-positive goats to protect the herd as a whole.

Caseous lymphadenitis (CL) in Goats

What is CL?

CL is a recurring disease caused by the bacteria, Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, CL causes fluid-filled cysts or abscesses near lymph nodes externally...or on internal organs.

What are the Symptoms of CL?

CL is often prematurely diagnosed by well-meaning goat owners and on social media forums.

A lump does not automatically mean a goat has CL. In fact, it could be a bug bite, an injury, or an old vaccine site.

While the most obvious symptom is an abscess near one of the peripheral lymph nodes, it's not a fool-proof diagnosis. Too many healthy goats are being culled out of fear or due to incorrect information.

The only way to know for sure is to get the exudate tested by a lab.

And the good news, it's not expensive to do so. You can work with your vet, or send samples out to reputable labs on your own.

Is CL Deadly?

The external version of CL is not deadly. In fact, goats rarely get internal cysts (which can cause death).

While CL isn't necessarily deadly, it can affect the health of your herd. And, if you're a meat goat farmer, it can cause unsightly blemishes on the carcass of your animal.

How is CL Transmitted?

The bad news about CL is that it's highly contagious. If a scab sheds or if the pus drips (on anything), and another goat comes into contact with it, they'll almost certainly become infected.

How is CL Diagnosed?

There are two ways to diagnose CL:

  • Through exudate culture (pus)

  • Blood Samples

With that being said, the more accurate form of detection is through a culture of the exudate. This is because there is a vaccine that more and more goat owners are using. Once vaccinated, the goat will always test positive on a blood test.

Additionally, CL is one of the more commonly misdiagnosed diseases due to false negatives from other, very similar bacteria goats may carry. If your goat is borderline positive, your lab may suggest retesting.

How is CL Treated?

Goats can live a happy healthy life with CL. Many people cull their CL-infected goats out of fear, but the truth is, a lot of farms are managing their CL-infected herd successfully.

CL can be messy, gross, and spreads like wildfire. It's truly not desirable to have within your herd, but it's also not the end of the world if your goat contracts it. Biosecurity measures can prevent the spread.

How to Prevent CL from Spreading

Simply remove goats with suspicious external cysts (near lymph location) and have them tested. If it's positive, keep them quarantined, wait for it to burst, and heal fully. Then, your goat can return to the herd.

Some goat farmers will expedite the process by draining the cyst rather than waiting for it to burst, but check with your goat vet before attempting this.

And always remember to disinfect any area that may be infected because CL sticks around (in the soil, woodwork, stalls, etc) for a long time.

While these diseases can be deadly, they can also be managed and, in some cases, your herd can successfully return to health.

It may not happen overnight, and you might have to make some difficult decisions, but good management and record-keeping will go a long way for the dedicated goat farmer battling common goat diseases.


Amanda Pieper is an accomplished agricultural writer who owns and operates a small goat farm in Wisconsin. Amanda is laser-focused on raising healthy goats and pasture-raised poultry.


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