Bloating can be a major problem for ruminant animals, and it’s especially common in goats. Bloat occurs when gas builds up in the rumen of a goat and gets trapped, causing painful swelling and eventually impingement on the lungs.
It can rapidly become fatal if untreated, and to make matters even worse it has several different causes, meaning you must always be alert for it.
If you have goats, even if you’re a beginner, you’ve got to know how to deal with this challenging and dangerous problem.
Today I’ll be telling you all about bloat, the likely causes, the symptoms, how to treat it, and a lot more. Everything you need to know is in the rest of this article.
What is Bloat?
Bloating, properly known as ruminal tympany, is nothing more than the increasing buildup of gas in the rumen of a goat.
The rumen itself is one of the four primary chambers that make up a goat’s stomach, and is the first of them. The rumen is basically the compartment where ingested food sits for fermentation as it begins to break down due to various microbial processes.
As a natural consequence of this process, a considerable amount of gas will be released, gas that must be expelled! Goats normally do this by belching, and some will naturally come out when they regurgitate food to chew it again before re-swallowing.
But if anything, for whatever reason, prevents a goat from expelling the gasses created by the digestive process, it will become trapped in the rumen, stretching, and swelling it. This quickly starts to cause pain, dysfunction, and soon enough, death.
Bloat can take hold quickly from various causes, and you must be prepared to do something about it immediately if you want to save your goat!
What Could Cause Bloat In Goats?
Lots of things can cause bloat. To make matters even more complicated, there’s more than one kind of bloat that may affect your goat!
Generally, the symptoms are similar or even identical, but the root causes are different and so might dictate a different intervention. Familiarize yourself with all of them:
The most common kind of bloat is known as frothy bloat. It’s so named because the microorganisms active in the rumen produce foam during digestion that basically creates a natural seal, preventing the gas from escaping the organ.
Frothy bloat is almost invariably caused when a goat eats a large quantity of food that it isn’t acclimated to, especially rich foods like alfalfa, clover, vegetable greens, grains, and concentrates.
This high quantity of rich, new food leaves the microorganisms in the rumen no time to adapt and the disruption of this “ecosystem,” for lack of a better word, causes very rapid fermentation and the production of the foam which traps the gas.
Free Gas or Choke Bloat
A somewhat rarer kind of bloat that affects all goats is known as free gas or choke bloat. Mechanically they are much the same, only with different inciting causes.
Typically, this results from a physical obstruction in the esophagus of the goat that prevents the gas from escaping via belching.
It most commonly results when a chunk of a treat gets stuck in a goat’s throat, usually a hard fruit or vegetable like carrot, potato, apple, pear, etc.
Additionally, physical maladies like swelling, and pronounced inflammation might close off the throat enough to prevent belching. Ingestion of inedible objects such as plastic, rope, tarps, and so forth will also cause choke bloat.
And yet another cause is positional obstruction.
Goats generally can only burp when they are upright, and if a goat is forced to lie down on its side for a time or if it is caught in some other strange position and can’t move it won’t be able to belch in order to clear the gas out of its rumen.
In many cases, this tends to be a recurring type of bloat because eventually enough gas will escape to offer a goat momentary relief, but with the obstruction persisting it is bound to reoccur.
The third kind of bloat is known as abomasal bloat and typically afflicts kids that are only a few weeks old.
It has several root causes, but overindulgence in large amounts of milk or milk replacer, nutritional deficiencies, infection, and accidental ingestion of inedible matter can cause it.
This type of bloat is particularly bad because it is usually fatal and difficult to treat.
The Symptoms of Bloat in Goats
The next thing you need to know is that bloat can be treated in most cases, but you’ve got to know what symptoms to look out for. They aren’t always easy to detect.
If you’re paying attention to and interacting with your goats regularly, you’ll know when they are acting a little “off,” and that tells you it is time to look more closely.
Always be especially vigilant for the following symptoms if your goats have a change in their diet, are injured or have gotten into different foods, or are eating other things that they shouldn’t.
Frothy and Free Gas/Choke Bloat
The symptoms of frothy and free gas bloat are often highly similar, and identical much of the time. Be on the lookout for:
- A taut, distended, and drum-like abdomen high on the goat’s left side.
- General discomfort.
- Tension, especially of the face and neck.
- A sudden loss of appetite.
- Bleating and grunting.
- Labored or slow breathing.
- Chronic lying down or inability to stand.
- Kicking at or leaning on their stomach.
- Grinding teeth.
- Lack of belching.
- Increased urination.
- Pacing, circling and stamping of the feet.
Note that your goat might show only a few symptoms or they might show many, and they may or may not intensify with the progression of the bloat. If you notice any of them, you need to investigate and take action if needed.
Abomasal bloat has different symptoms compared to frothy or free gas bloat above. If you notice any of them, take action at once because it kills very quickly. Only prompt and correct intervention can save a young kid affected by it. Look for:
- Grinding of the teeth
- Pain response when the midsection is touched or pressed.
- Audible internal splashing or dripping sound when the kid is picked up.
And again, kids often die from this kind of bloating and die suddenly. Fatality rates from abomasal bloating are upwards of 75%.
Quick Fixes if Your Goat Has Bloat
If you are dealing with an adult goat that has bloat, do the following.
Step 1: check for obstructions. Perform a quick check of the goat’s throat, especially if you’ve given them any firm treats lately. If you see an obstruction, you might be able to remove it carefully using forceps.
Feel on the throat for any hard spot or other potential obstructions where you can’t see. If the blockage is far down in the throat, contact your vet.
Step 2: gently massage goat’s stomach. Sometimes it’s possible to free the gas from the stomach with a little help…
Gently massage the sides and belly of your goat to encourage belching. If the goat starts belching or you feel the release of gas, keep going. If it doesn’t work, or if your goat is in a lot of pain, move on.
Step 3: stand goat up. One easy, helpful technique that might work before we move on to more invasive procedures is standing the goat up on its hind legs.
Hold the goat up under its front legs and gently stand it upright. This shifting can sometimes allow gas to escape or the goat to burp. Alternate between this and massaging the stomach to fully expel trapped gas.
Step 4: use stomach tube. A stomach tube is exactly what it sounds like- a long and flexible tube that you can feed down the goat’s throat and into the rumen to give gas a conduit to escape.
This requires training and practice to use effectively without harming the goat, so make sure you get trained ahead of time so you don’t have to learn on the job and endanger the poor animal. If you feel significant resistance when passing the tube, the throat might be obstructed.
Step 5: reposition tube, observe for foam. You’ll need to reposition the tube several times to completely free the trapped gas.
You should be able to see and hear the gas escaping. The whole time, watch for foam to emerge from the tube. If you see foam, you’re dealing with frothy bloat and will need to administer a bloat remedy.
Step 6: in case of frothy bloat, administer anti-foam treatment. You might need a “wash” to break up the surface tension of the foam to release trapped gas in the case of frothy bloat.
You can use a 200cc dose of mineral oil or vegetable oil for the purpose, or specialized anti-foam solutions like Duravet or various other bloat release agents.
These solutions will be administered through the stomach tube directly using a syringe. You might need help to manage all of the “moving parts!” If you don’t have help, restrain the goat.
If none of these work, a vet can administer a needle externally directly into the rumen to vent it. This will usually cause secondary complications and will require supporting care in the aftermath. Leave this one to the pros if you have any other choice.
Treating Abomasal Bloat
Treating abomasal bloat is very difficult to do quickly and decisively enough to save a kid’s life. But, you can try the following…
- If you have a reason to suspect abomasal bloat by way of infection, your vet can prescribe penicillin or other antibiotics to counteract harmful bacteria.
- A stomach tube is sometimes helpful to release the trapped gas and the case of abomasal bloat, but a worsening condition means that a young kid is still likely to die if not caught very early.
- A mixture of baking soda and water, anywhere from 50 to 100 cc’s, may neutralize the acidity that is causing the bloat, but you’ll have to follow up and work hard to get the young goat’s rumen back to normal afterward. This solution can be administered as a wash through a stomach tube as usual, or directly if the goat will still drink.
Your very best bet for saving a young goat afflicted by abomasal bloat is prompt and continuous vet care, and even then the chances aren’t good…
What’s the Best Remedy for Bloat in Goats?
There are lots of great anti-bloating remedies and preventatives out on the market, but my very favorite one is by Duravet.
This is a treatment that has been trusted for a long time, and can be used for immediate relief in case of bloat and also bloat prevention during high-risk times, such as in the case of wet forage or if your goats are eating more legumes than usual.
Not only does it break down foam in the case of frothy bloat, but actively disperses gas and even helps to relieve tension on the rumen itself.
This can provide a goat with immediate relief and ongoing assurance that the bloat won’t return. Definitely one tool you will want in your goat-care toolbox!
How to Prevent Bloat in Goats
The old advice that says prevention is worth a lot more than cure definitely holds true when it comes to bloated animals…
Most of the time, it’s entirely possible to keep your goats from getting bloat through proper management practices and careful moderation of their diet. However, frothy and free gas- or choke bloat require different preventative measures from abomasal bloat.
Managing frothy bloat is mostly a matter of being cautious with what you feed your goats concerning composition and timing, and also managing the pasture that they graze upon.
For starters, your goats should only be getting limited amounts of protein-rich rich foods, and should be persisting predominantly on long grain grasses and correct amounts of hay.
Don’t allow your goats to overindulge in any sort of legumes, including alfalfa and clover, or processed foods containing lots of protein or carbohydrates.
If you’re increasing the intake of any off these foods, make sure they still get plenty of grasses to compensate and introduce the rich foods slowly.
Also, make it a point to inspect the pasture that they will be grazing in and ensure they don’t have too many legumes to eat because they will binge on them. This too can be moderated by letting your goats eat grass and hay before you let them out to pasture so they are fuller.
Another common cause of frothy bloat is wet grass and other food, so try not to let your goats eat anything until you are sure it is very dry.
Free Gas or Choke Bloat
When giving your goat any kind of treat in the form of firm fruits or vegetables make sure they are very small pieces to reduce the likelihood that they will get stuck in their esophagus.
If you suspect a goat has something caught in their throat, look closely and you might be able to remove it cautiously.
If you find swelling, a tumor, or some other growth or deformity are impinging upon the goat’s throat, contact your vet right away.
If a goat has been lying down for a long time, for any reason, make it a point to try and get them up and move them around periodically (if you can do so safely) to prevent gas from being trapped due to positional blockage.
Keep a close eye on any rescued goat that was stuck in an unusual position for any length of time. Gas might be trapped, and if it has been trapped long enough the tension on the rumen will prevent the goat from belching to expel it.
In that case, you’ll need to intervene as above…
To prevent abomasal bloat in kids, it’s critical that they get plenty of colostrum early in life, and that they’re only getting enough milk, not too much!
If feedings get disrupted or mom is allowed to lie down too often and for too long, her udder will be full of milk and the hungry kid will drink too much for its developing system to deal with. More often, shorter and lower-volume nursing is preferable.
Likewise, if giving a kid milk replacer it is essential that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter: improperly mixed or fed milk replacer is another leading cause of abomasal bloat.
Tim is a farm boy with vast experience on homesteads, and with survival and prepping. He lives a self-reliant lifestyle along with his aging mother in a quiet and very conservative little town in Ohio. He teaches folks about security, prepping and self-sufficiency not just through his witty writing, but also in person.
Find out more about Tim and the rest of the crew here.