Six years ago, Candace Rice purchased Zeus as an addition for her small farm in Silex, Missouri. The then 6-month old Angora goat joined her herd of horses and donkeys. Not long after bringing the kid home, she noticed that his urine had tinges of red and brown mixed in.
She called her veterinarian, who first thought the condition was a urinary tract infection or a urinary calculi (solid particles were in the urinary system). The first step was bloodwork and antibiotics.
But when Zeus didn’t improve and the test results were inconclusive, Rice knew she needed additional help. So she reached out to a university veterinary center.
“If you don’t seem to be getting anywhere with your local vet, get to your nearest university veterinary center as soon as possible,” she says.
Additional bloodwork and bone marrow aspiration, a procedure that draws out the soft spongy tissue inside the bones, revealed Zeus has an auto-immune disorder called autoimmune hemolytic anemia. The disease is rare for a goat.
“The auto-immune disorder kills most of his red blood cells before they get to his bloodstream,” she says. “What we thought was blood in his urine was actually the pigment of destroyed red blood cells.”
The Johns Hopkins Medicine website defines hemolytic anemia as:
“A disorder in which red blood cells are destroyed faster than they can be made. The destruction of red blood cells is called hemolysis. Red blood cells carry oxygen to all parts of your body. If you have a lower than normal amount of red blood cells, you have anemia. When you have anemia, your blood can’t bring enough oxygen to all your tissues and organs. Without enough oxygen, your body can’t work as well as it should.”
The vet prescribed prednisone, a corticosteroid that is used in people and other animals to treat conditions ranging from blood disorders to arthritis, allergies, immune system disorders, breathing problems and more.
“Now that he’s on prednisone, he rarely has an episode of pigment in his urine. And we haven’t been able to pin down a cause when it does happen,” Rice says. “The last time was when we sheared him in the spring. So, possibly stress brings it on. But he had no reaction (no urinary pigment) when we sheared him this fall.”
One of the big challenges to caring for Zeus is that not much research has focused on hemolytic anemia in goats and it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cause.
An episode may be triggered by ulcers, blood disorders, certain types of toxins, a lack of certain trace elements, vitamin B12 deficiencies, autoimmune disorders and chronic disease.
Rice describes Zeus generally as a hard keeper. The medication instructions direct to give it with food, but there are days he turns his nose up at all food. She keeps a variety of grains in the feed room and has options ranging from straight oats and straight barley to rolled options of both, prepared grain and timothy pellets. And she even offers split peas (which are high in iron), sugar beets and sunflower seeds.
“There’s a lot of back and forth when he turns his nose up at his regular ration,” she said.
Because goats are grazers and her pastures are mostly grass, she trims oak and willow branches from around the property or cattails by the lake and brings them back. Select herbs from the garden are also occasionally on the menu.
Rice sees caring for the goat as a labor love and admits that one of the biggest challenges is the lack of research on the rare disease. Although it can be difficult caring for a goat with a rare disease, she says the best approach is monitoring his condition.
“As with any animal, closely observing behavior so you know what’s normal and what isn’t—from changes in appetite to quantity and quality of urination and defecation—is key,” she said.