Goat Rumen Illnesses

Your goats’ health can suffer if not properly managed. Here’s a run-down of some common goat illnesses you need to know.

by Lorri Boldrick

It’s difficult to notice when a goat is ill. Many goat illnesses show only subtle signs, but you should know your goats so well that those subtle changes in attitude and behavior will get your attention. The following are common rumen illnesses in goats. If you think your goat may be suffering from one of these illnesses, consult a veterinarian before beginning treatment.


A healthy rumen is crucial for a goat to properly digest roughage. Digestive enzymes in the abomasum and small intestine cannot break down roughage correctly unless it has been prepared by rumen microorganisms. For a goat to thrive, its rumen bacteria must be healthy.

Symptoms and Causes

Healthy rumen bacteria can be killed by improper feeding (too much grain, moldy hay or grain, dog food, et cetera), oral antibiotics and pathogenic bacterial toxins (such as those produced by Clostridium perfringens, type C and D). When bacteria die, the goat cannot digest its food, so the rumen becomes a vat of decaying food and bacteria that quickly becomes toxic. The rumen quits contracting, and it becomes stagnant, causing more bacteria to die and perpetuating the cycle.

Indigestion can range from mild to severe and fatal. A goat will show signs by eating less or not at all and by changes in behavior. The goat may be more inactive and may make complaining sounds.


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The rumen must be detoxified, encouraged to contract and empty, and restocked with normal bacteria. Milk of magnesia will detoxify and reduce the acidity of the rumen. It will also help encourage rumen contractions.

For miniature goats, give 2 ounces of milk of magnesia four times daily for two days. For dairy or Boer goats, give 4 ounces of milk of magnesia four times daily for two days. As all the toxic material is emptied out of the rumen, the goat will excrete a foul-smelling diarrhea for 12 to 24 hours. Do not treat this diarrhea; you want to clear all the bad materials as quickly as possible.’

To replace normal bacteria, give the goat 1⁄2 to 1 cup of yogurt daily with a drenching gun, or try probiotics for ruminants, such as Probios. If the milk of magnesia and yogurt routine does not work, call your veterinarian. There is a definite “point of no return” when the rumen stops functioning, so do not delay treatment.


To prevent indigestion, allow your goats access to a variety of browse and grain. A diet of too much grain will lead to indigestion, because these foods will upset the balance of microorganisms in the rumen. Moldy hay will also upset the rumen’s balance. Be careful with antibiotics. They often kill rumen bacteria, allowing bad bacteria to take over and cause indigestion.


Also called “overeating disease,” enterotoxemia occurs when a specific bacteria, Clostridium perfringens, type C or D, infects the rumen when a goat is suffering from indigestion. It multiplies rapidly, taking advantage of the acidic environment to produce its own toxins, poisoning the goat.

Symptoms and Causes

When the balance of bacteria in the stomach is disrupted (by eating too much grain, et cetera), Clostridium perfringens becomes prolific and produces toxins. Goats suffering from this disease may exhibit twitching, a swollen stomach, teeth grinding and fever.


There is no effective cure for this illness. It is usually fatal and does not respond well to any treatment.


Enterotoxemia can be prevented by annual vaccination and by avoiding abrupt changes in your goat’s diet. Goats at risk to devouring excess grain or nursing kids are at risk and should be vaccinated. Goats kept on dry lots with absolutely no chance of getting excess grain may not need this vaccine.


The normal rumen churns one to four times every minute, and its bacteria produce methane gas continuously. Most of this gas is released as the goat belches. Bloat occurs when the goat is not able to release built-up gas.

Symptoms and Causes

Certain goat diets—especially fresh, green alfalfa—will cause the gas to form tiny bubbles that become trapped in the rumen fluid. This may produce a frothy bloat. The tiny bubbles cannot be released in a natural belch, and the condition progresses rapidly until the rumen is grossly distended and the goat is extremely uncomfortable.

The goat’s rumen will swell, and the goat may kick at its left side while it grunts and slobbers. The goat may continually get up and then lay back down. If not treated promptly, bloat can lead to death. The position of the goat may also cause bloat. If the goat lies on its side, the opening between the rumen and esophagus will be low and the natural gas pocket in the rumen will be above it. The gas is again trapped and the rumen becomes painfully distended.


Treatment is obvious—the gas must be allowed to escape. Position the goat on a steep incline (at least a 45-degree angle) with the front legs higher than the rear. This elevates the opening between the esophagus and the rumen and will often be all that is necessary to relieve a positional bloat.

Mineral oil or milk of magnesia (2 to 3 ounces) will help relieve a frothy bloat by breaking the tiny bubbles to form one large gas pocket, which can be relieved normally. Once the medicine has been administered, massaging the abdomen and walking the goat will help with proper mixing and breakdown of the bubbles. Relief from frothy bloat should be evident within one hour of administration of the medication.

If these treatments do not work, your vet may need to pass a tube into the goat’s stomach to release the pressure in the rumen while giving the medicine a chance to work.


Do not confuse a full rumen with bloat. The rumen lies on the left side of the goat. True bloat will cause a tense, firm swelling in the left flank, and the goat will be in obvious distress. However, some goats will eat a big meal and look bloated, but they are comfortable and can easily belch or bring up a cud, assuring you they’re happy and healthy. To prevent bloat, feed balanced rations and make dietary changes gradually, and prevent goats from overeating.

About the Author: Lorrie Boldrick, DVM, graduated from the University of California-Davis, College of Veterinary Medicine in 1968. She specializes in caprine medicine and raised Pygmy goats for 25 years. She is the author of Pygmy Goats: Veterinary Care and Management.

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