Goats are pretty healthy, hardy creatures – but just like us humans, they can suffer from occasional health problems. Among the list of diseases to keep an eye out for? Kidney stones.
A lady I was talking to recently told me that her goats, especially the males, would occasionally get kidney stones. I asked her how she could tell that they had it, and she replied that they would arch their backs up, and act like they had to use the bathroom, but just couldn’t.
Sometimes they would even scream out in pain. She said that feeding them canned pumpkin always did the trick. I thought that was pretty interesting, and definitely worth remembering!
However, canned pumpkin isn’t the only solution you should keep in your back pocket – nor is it always the best way to prevent kidney stones. Here are some more tips about how to identify, treat, and prevent these issues in your herd.
What Are Kidney Stones?
If you’ve ever been unlucky enough to suffer from kidney stones, you probably already know just how uncomfortable they can be.
Kidney stones, known more formally as “urinary calculi,” are small growths formed by too many minerals (usually phosphorus) in the ureter.
The ureter is the tube that leads from the bladder to the exterior of the animal, where it urinates.
Because male goats have longer ureters with sharper curvatures, they are much more likely to suffer from kidney stones than females. Does can also get kidney stones, but the shorter, straighter urethra is more likely to pass them without any trouble.
Kidney stones can be extremely painful and difficult for goats to deal with. They can also lead to secondary infections.
Not only that, but kidney stones can cause a full or partial obstruction that can rupture the urethra or bladder. This can happen in as little as 24 to 48 hours with urine leaking into the surrounding tissues and leading to infection.
Once this happens, only surgery can save your goat – and even then, the success rates are very low.
Therefore, detecting the signs and symptoms of kidney stones early on is important if you want to keep your herd healthy.
Signs of Kidney Stones in Goats
There are a few signs to watch out for if you suspect kidney stones among your goats.
One is anxiety and restlessness, but you might also notice tail twitching. This tail twitching is a good indicator that your animal is having a hard time urinating.
You might find that your goats are vocalizing a lot or straining (often forcefully) to urinate.
Your goats might suffer from abdominal pressure, but this can be hard to notice. There can be some rectal prolapse if the stones are severe.
You might notice crystals or drops of bloody urine. Of course, you’ll probably notice more than anything that your goat is in pain. He might attempt to paw at his abdomen or look confused.
Once the urethra ruptures, you might notice a swollen abdomen (also known as “water belly”) and that your goat has lost its appetite and become depressed. Teeth grinding or standing in an elongated stance, as well as a swollen penis (in males) are also common signs. The urine may even be darker in color.
If you notice any of these signs, even in an isolated fashion, it’s important to get your goats to the vet’s as soon as possible.
Some of them are easy to confuse with other problems, like a parasitic infestation or constipation. Don’t try to treat until you know for sure what’s causing the problem, as it can make the situation worse while not actually addressing the underlying cause.
How to Prevent Kidney Stones in Goats
Although just about any goat (especially a buck) can get kidney stones, there are a few underlying conditions and predisposing factors that can make them much more likely.
Avoid Early Castration
Castration is something that many goat owners choose to do in order to raise meat goats without tainting the flavor of the meat or even just to be able to keep multiple bucks within a herd without causing problems like aggression.
When done safely and correctly, it poses very few risks. However, if goats are castrated too early, it can increase the likelihood of kidney stones.
That’s because the male hormone testosterone influences the diameter of the ureter. The earlier the goat is castrated, the more likely it is that the ureter will be narrow and prone to blockages.
Therefore, you should wait until four months of age (or even better, five or six) to castrate your goats.
Provide Plenty of Water
As with humans, dehydration is a leading cause of kidney stones.
If your goats aren’t drinking enough water, their urine will be more concentrated and there’s a higher chance of urinary calculi development.
Many people withhold water from show goats to improve their muscular appearance. This is extremely common in the exhibition world – however, it’s not the wisest move for this reason as well as many others.
Always give your goats free access to clean water. You should also provide salt via a free choice salt lick- there’s a misconception that salt can lead to kidney stones in goats, but that’s not true.
That said, you should have your water tested and treated if it’s high in minerals, since too many minerals can lead to kidney stones.
Make sure there’s plenty of water provided even during the winter months, when it might not seem like your goats need to be drinking as much. Kidney stones are just as common in the winter as they are in the summer.
Check Feed Ration Formulation
Grains as well as many grain-based feeds tend to be higher in phosphorus. This is the primary mineral involved in the formation of calculi – so it’s important to make sure you aren’t feeding too much of it if you are worried about kidney stones among your goats.
Phosphorus is also common in many forage areas, especially if you fertilize with chicken litter. Test the forage to make sure it’s not too high in phosphorus. If it is, you can always balance it out with calcium sources (around two to two and a half as much calcium is needed, compared to phosphorus).
It can also help to provide your goats with feed that has a urinary acidifier in it. Ammonium chloride is one that is exceptionally helpful. It can help prevent the formation of urinary stones.
Excess magnesium can also lead to the formation of stones, as can forages that are high in silicate or oxalates – so check for this, too.
Avoid Too Much Grain
Providing your goats with a bit of grain isn’t problematic, but you need to try to provide a balanced diet. Too much commercial feed or grain (or alfalfa hay) can be high in phosphorus relative to calcium, leading to problems. Consult a vet or nutritionist if you aren’t sure how to strike the right balance.
In general, a 100 pound goat only needs a pound or so of grain each day. Rely more heavily on good quality hay that’s suitable for all small ruminants to help keep the urethral process healthy!
Give Goats Exercise
Kidney stones are much more common in goats that are kept in confinement compared to those that are raised on pasture. Exercise can help keep things moving – and prevent the formation of kidney stones.
Be Careful When Medicating
If your goats are on any kind of medication, be extra vigilant in keeping an eye out for kidney stones. There are some studies that suggest that large doses of medication can trigger kidney stones – antibiotics are particularly troubling.
Earlier in this article, I mentioned that pumpkin can help prevent kidney stones. Another good solution is adding herbs to the goat’s diet.
Although this won’t be a panacea for all your problems, it can help eliminate many incidences of kidney stones. Herbs like chickweed and plantain both contain ample amounts of vitamins and minerals to alleviate kidney problems.
Wild raspberries, too, can help with maintaining urinary tract health.
Treating Kidney Stones in Goats
If your goats develop kidney stones, it’s important to take the steps described above to prevent them from coming back in the future. However, addressing the current problem will probably require the help of a veterinarian.
If you suspect kidney stones, contact a vet to prevent costly or life threatening complications. When the ureter is totally blocked, the prognosis isn’t great, so most vets will recommend euthansisa.
In less severe cases, some vets will use chemical additives to make the stones more soluble so the goats can pass them. This is a good solution when the problem is detected earlier on.
If you find that your goat has kidney stones, don’t force it to drink lots of water. Although hydration is key in preventing kidney stones, it unfortunately won’t do much to help your goat recover from this.
The fluids won’t be able to leave the body because the exit is blocked and the bladder will simply burst. This will kill your goat.
So what’s the takeaway here? Make sure your goats are staying hydrated and properly fed to prevent kidney stones. If they do happen to arise, contact a vet – and quickly! – to help save our goat.
updated: 12/09/2021 by Rebekah Pierce
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.