Bloat can be a dangerous condition in goats, causing gastrointestinal distress and discomfort, decreasing the animal’s productivity, and leading to loss of condition and even death if not effectively treated. Understanding the causes of bloat in goats, however, can help you keep your billies, nannies, and kids healthy.
What Is Bloat?
Bloat, also called ruminal tympany, is a buildup of gasses in the digestive tract when an animal is unable to burp to release the gas, causing swelling of the abdomen. This can be a very painful condition and may even be fatal if left untreated. All ruminants are susceptible to bloat, including goats, sheep, and cattle.
Other than the inability to burp, symptoms of bloat include a severely swollen or distended abdomen, particularly a bulge on the left side. Loss of appetite is common with bloat, and the goat may be kicking at its abdomen, laying down, or excessively drooling as well. An awkward gait is also apparent with bloat, as the animal tries to accommodate the overall pain, or the goat may be reluctant to move at all and will seem lethargic.
Causes of Bloat
There are two major causes of bloat in goats:
Esophagus Obstruction – If a large item is stuck in a goat’s throat but the animal is not choking, the esophageal muscles may be unable to facilitate burping and bloat can develop. This can happen when goats attempt to swallow large, hard pieces too quickly, such as apples or carrots.
- Inappropriate Diet – A goat that eats too much grain or has a rapid diet change may have microbial shifts in its gut, creating too much gas that becomes foam in the stomach and esophagus, blocking gas from escaping and creating bloat.
While these are the main causes of bloat, other conditions, such as throat or stomach tumors, throat inflammation that closes the esophagus, or gut impaction can also lead to bloat.
Because the causes of bloat can vary and the symptoms may also indicate other digestive difficulties, it is important to consult a veterinarian immediately for a proper diagnosis and plan of treatment. Depending on the cause, gentle throat massage may help the goat swallow to clear an obstruction, or walking the goat or massaging its flank may help move the gasses around so they can be cleared. A stomach tube can also help evacuate the gas and relieve bloat, but should only be done once the cause is determined and it is clear that a tube will not exacerbate the goat’s distress.
Because bloat can quickly become debilitating, it is easier to prevent the condition and ensure goats do not suffer from excessive gas. There are several ways to minimize the risk of goats developing bloat, including:
- Providing a proper diet with less grain, or spreading grain over a large area for feeding so it is not consumed too quickly and gas cannot build up dangerously.
- Only permitting goats to graze in very lush pasture for short periods and avoiding wet pasture entirely to ensure they don’t overeat on gas-producing plants and grasses.
- Keeping goats completely away from inedible materials such as plastic, cloth, or rope that can lead to impaction or throat obstructions.
- Cutting up treats like apples and carrots into smaller pieces so they are more easily swallowed, and limiting the amount of such treats to keep goats from overindulging.
- Providing adequate hay for goats to eat, which will produce less gas and can be more easily digested without causing gas problems.
Bloat can be a devastating illness for goats, but it can be easy to prevent and recognize. If treated quickly, a bloated goat will have an equally quick recovery and will soon be back to its energetic and quirky self.