Diarrhea should not be considered an illness in and of itself but rather a symptom of other more serious health
problems in goats. Before treating a goat for diarrhea, it is essential to determine why the animal is scouring.
Administering a diarrhea-controlling medication can make the situation much worse. Slightly soft stool is sometimes
the body's way of ridding itself of undesirable products through the purging effect of diarrhea. For example, one
step in the treatment of Floppy Kid Syndrome involves the use of a laxative (Milk of Magnesia) to induce mild
diarrhea so that the kid's body is rid of the stagnant toxic milk that has overloaded its digestive system.
There are four major causative agents of diarrhea in goats: bacteria, viruses, parasites, and management
practices (overcrowding, poor sanitation, or nutritionally-induced problems).
Diarrhea can be the symptom of many different illnesses, including bloat, ruminal acidosis, laminitis/founder,
copper deficiency, aflatoxin poisoning, anaphylactic shock, plant toxicity/poisoning, renal failure, selenium
toxicity, coccidiosis, enterotoxemia (clostridium perfringens type C&D), salmonellosis, E. Coli infection,
caprine herpes virus, heavy parasite infestation, and goat polio.
However, diarrhea is not always the result of an infectious disease. It can be nutritionally induced by
overfeeding on milk or grain, by using poor-quality milk replacers, or by sudden changes in feeding schedules or in
the type of feed being offered.
Neonatal Diarrhea Complex, which is the term used to describe diarrhea occurring in kids under one month of age,
the cause of which may not ever be diagnosed, usually occurs during kidding season when extremes of weather take
place . . . . excessive heat or cold or heavy rains. Kids less than one month of age do have not fully functioning
immune systems, so diarrhea can take a heavy toll. Dehydration, acidosis, electrolyte depletion, and hypocalcemia
(low blood sugar) can result. The kid becomes weak and can't stand, has a dry mouth and cold extremities, body
temperature drops below normal, and the sucking response is often lost. Sick kids should be isolated from the herd,
placed in sanitary facilities, and fed in containers that are up and off the ground to prevent further
contamination. Administration of oral and subcutaneous electrolytes along with an appropriate broad-spectrum
antibiotic is the recommended treatment.
Coccidia and/or worms usually are the cause of diarrhea in kids over one month of age. Both of these conditions
are transmitted by fecal-to-oral contact and occur most frequently in intensive management situations where pens
and troughs are not kept clean and dry and overcrowding exists.
Adult-onset diarrhea is less common than in kids, but nevertheless is quite possible. Overfeeding on grain (such
as shell or cracked corn) can cause severe ruminal acidosis . . . literally shutting down the goat's digestive
system . . . and can result in death. Heavy parasite loads can cause diarrhea in adult goats. Almost anything which
negatively affects the proper functioning of the goat's rumen may cause scouring.
When a producer sees diarrhea in one of his goats, do not run for a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, Kaeopectate, or
Scour Halt. First figure out what is causing the scouring, then treat appropriately. Use a rectal thermometer to
take the goat's body temperature. Mix electrolytes (ReSorb or equivalent) and orally drench the animal to prevent
dehydration. Administer electrolytes under the skin (subcutaneously) if the goat is already seriously dehydrated.
Never use Immodium AD to control diarrhea in a goat. This product can stop the peristaltic action of the gut,
bringing the digestive process to a halt, and death in not uncommon under such circumstances. If the scouring is
slightly soft stool, let it run its course. When body temperature is above the normal range, use a fever medication
and an antibiotic to control infection. Obviously, very watery diarrhea requires a different approach and much more
intervention on the producer's part.
Producers should recognize diarrhea as a symptom of a more serious health problem and investigate
further to find the cause before running for the Scour Halt bottle. Sometimes, but certainly not always, the
diarrhea is helpful in clearing up what is wrong with the goat.