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For all districts

First-aid for goats


By Dr. I. McLeod, district veterinary officer, Hamilton.

Goats are susceptible to a wide range of ailments and accidents. They are also sensitive to some drugs commonly used in the treatment of disease and injury.

Major injuries and disease situations should be handled by veterinarians, but there are many situations where a farmer can render first aid to his own animals. In some cases this will result in complete recovery, in others it will make the veterinarian's job a lot easier. It is important to know your own limitations and to seek help when it is needed. Trying to do a job which is beyond you could only make matters worse.

Emergency conditions needing immediate veterinary attention

These include:

  • sudden prostration (collapse), shock, loss of blood, extensive or deep wounds;

  • anaphylaxis — allergic shock which may rapidly follow any injection;

  • fractures.

The owner can do little in these cases apart from restraining the animal, restricting blood loss and making it comfortable until the vet arrives.

Seek veterinary advice in cases of protracted scouring and wasting, coughing or general distress in breathing (see also the agnote "Sudden death in goats").

The principles of wound treatment

  • Control any bleeding;

  • clean the wound with dilute saline (one level tablespoon of common salt in a 9 L bucket of clean water) and sterile gauze;

  • clip the surrounding hair;

  • use the antispectics on skin only, as they are irritants. Antiseptics that are used in too strong a concentration may kill the tissues — read the label!

  • fresh, open wounds should generally be stitched as this promotes quicker healing with less chance of unsightly scarring;

  • use non-irritant ointments under bandages (mastitis preparations are satisfactory);

  • the injection of broad spectrum antibiotics as prescribed by a veterinarian is a wise precaution;

  • poultices or a dressing soaked with magnesium sulphate will help draw any oozing from the wound, and decrease swelling;

  • for deep, penetrating wounds the injection of tetanus antitoxin is desirable.

Temperature and heart rate

These are simple to take and indicate the basic health of an animal. A clinical thermometer is needed to measure temperature. First, shake the mercury down, put petroleum jelly ("vaseline") on the bulb and insert it gently into the rectum to about half the length of the thermometer. Withdraw the thermometer after about a minute and read the temperature. The normal range for a goat is about 39°C - 40°C.

To check heart rate, place the palm of the hand against the left side of the chest and count the number of beats per minute. Normal heart rate is about 90 per minute (range 70-135).

First aid techniques

To control bleeding

The quickest way to control bleeding is to pinch the edges of a wound together, or press a clean finger or clamp (such as artery forceps or tweezers) on the source of spurting blood.

Bleeding is best controlled by pressure but small bleeding blood vessels sometimes can be tied off. A pressure bandage, or simply some gauze or cotton wool firmly attached with liberal amounts of "Elastoplast" is usually adequate. A pressure bandage consists of a pressure pad (usually of cotton wool or gauze), which is bound over the site of bleeding with a very firm bandage, in order to staunch the blood flow and promote clotting.


Bandaging is used to provide support, protect wounds and hold dressings and poultices in place. Avoid excess pressure, except when the control of bleeding is required, as this can cut off the blood circulation. Avoid leaving bandages on too long.

Poor bandaging is often the result of skimping on materials and the area covered. As a general rule, a bandage which extends from one joint to the next will provide better support and hold in place more securely. Insufficient padding, and failure to fix the bandage adequately with an adhesive tape such as "Elastoplast" will also result in poor bandaging.

Administering medicines

1. Drenching

Oral liquid medicines should be administered by a drenching gun. In an emergency however, a small, long-necked bottle, for example, a soft drink bottle, can be used. The animal should be caught and backed into a corner. It should then be straddled so that it can be held between the legs of the operator. Insert the bottle into the side of the mouth, then tip it up so that the liquid flows slowly. Make sure the animal swallows each mouthful before continuing. A hand under the goat's jaw will help ensure swallowing movements.

Tablets or capsules can be crushed and given as a drench, hidden in a slice of bread or mixed with a "Weetbix" wafer. They may also be pushed, whole, over the tongue and followed by a little water.

2. Injections

Injections may be given, subcutaneously (under the skin), intramuscularly (into a muscle) or intravenously (into a vein). Intravenous injections should be given only by a person who is properly trained. Subcutaneous and intramuscular injections are generally given in the neck area, the shoulders, the "armpit" or the hindquarters. The prescribing veterinarian will indicate the most suitable site if a course of injections is to be administered by the farmer.

To fill a single-dose syringe, first pull back the plunger and draw in the equivalent amount of air as the dose requires. Turn the bottle upside down, and push the needle of the syringe through the rubber cap. Inject into the bottle the air in the syringe, draw out the required dose and remove the needle from the bottle. Keep the needle of the syringe pointint up, then gently push the plunger in until there are no air bubbles left inside the syringe. Similarly, if using an automatic syringe, pump all air from the line and the barrel before administering the first dose.

To administer the dose to the animal, wipe the area chosen for the injection with cotton wool soaked in tincture of iodine or methylated spirits and push the needle in with a sharp jab to puncture the skin. Be careful not to hit a bone with the needle.

When giving intramuscular or subcutaneous injections make sure that the needle is not in an artery or vein. To check this, draw the plunger back slightly; if a spurt of blood enters the body of the syringe, then withdraw the needle slightly and repeat the check.

Once the needle is in a suitable position press the plunger slowly and smoothly until the whole dose is given, then remove the needle. Always clean and sterilise the syringe after use. Remember dirty needles or faulty technique can cause secondary infections and produce body abscesses. They can also damage an animal's skin and reduce its commercial value at slaughter.

Common conditions and some owner treatments

1. Wounds

Broadly speaking, wounds may be classified as open (skin broken), closed or puncture types. Open wounds may have a clean edge or may be lacerated (as with barbed wire, bites and horn sores).

A great deal can be done to relieve pain and reduce swelling by taking certain simple measures. Where injuries are discovered before much swelling has occurred, cold water squirted from a hose at a gradually increasing pressure will decrease the degree of swelling and promote a more rapid healing. Hosing has a massaging and stimulating effect, as well as physically washing the wound.

Closed wounds vary from minor abrasions to massive areas of bruising with the possibility of gangrene. An abrasion should be cleaned with saline (one level tablespoon of salt in a 9 litre bucket of clean water) and soapy water. A scab will form over abrasions. Antiseptics are of value, for example, Triple dye, Acriflavine 1:1000 and Savlon cream.

Cold compresses should be applied to large areas of bruising as soon as they occur, to reduce the internal bleeding causing the bruise. If serum collects between the skin and deeper tissues after a few days, a veterinarian should drain it to give the tissues a better chance to re­unite. Tincture of iodine applied regularly will help this process.

Problems encountered with wounds include:

  • excess swelling;

  • bandaging which is too tight, restricting circulation;

  • excess local medication, which often delays healing or causes granulation tissue (proud flesh). Lotions containing copper sulphate help to control proud flesh. Other preparations are available from veterinarians;

  • delayed healing because of continued trauma;

  • deep wounds penetrating downwards, which form pockets for infection, and which heal badly. A cut with a knife may be necessary to allow the wound to drain;

  • the flap of the skin left by a small, three-cornered tear is best snipped off with sharp scissors or a scalpel blade, unless it is obviously healthy and healing;

  • cuts on the udder which penetrate to the teat canal and cause milk leakage. These should be stitched immediately if possible, and bandaged. If milk leakage persists after 48 hours, seek veterinary advice;

  • tethered goats are prone to injuries to the feet and neck and are vulnerable to dog attacks. Wounds from dog attacks frequently become flyblown. Clip hair away from wound edges, swab with Diazinon, then a mild antiseptic solution. Destroy all maggots. Apply fly repellent, for example, 10% Citronella, around (but not on) the wound.

2. Abscesses

These should be lanced at their base and flushed out daily with a mild antiseptic (such as diluted Hibitane (R), or Savlon (R) until healed - see agnote, "Abscesses in goats").

3. Burns

With small burns, clip around the affected area and clean it thoroughly. A cold compress, or cold, running water, applied for 20 minutes may help where burns are recent. Smear the area with an antibiotic-corticosteroid ointment such as Furacin (R) or Panalog (R). If the burns are large or if they occur on the legs or feet a veterinarian should be consulted.

4. Poisonings

In an emergency, a good general poison antidote is a mixture of:

Activated charcoal - 2 parts by measure

Magnesium oxide - 2 parts by measure

Powdered chalk (Kaolin) - 1 part by measure.

Add the above to enough strong, cold, black tea to make up a drench.

Plant poisoning of goats is a relatively common occurrence.

Common poisonous garden plants include Azalea, Rhododendron, Foxglove, Lilac, Kalmia, Aconite (monkshood), Hellebores (Christmas rose), Yew, Laurel, Poppies, Fuschia, Larkspur, Laburnum, potato tops, rhubarb leaves, bulbs, Hydrangea, Oleander, Deadly nightshade, Angel's trumpet (Datura).

Rapid changes of diet (for example, from grass to grain or other concentrates) may cause gastro-intestinal upsets, which may be fatal.

5. Bloat

Goats may be affected by bloat after eating large amounts of lush green feeds such as lucerne or clover. In these cases the rumen (paunch) becomes swollen with a gaseous foam. Pressure on the diaphragm may cause heart or respiratory failure.

A goat that is still standing can be drenched with anti-foam bloat "oil" or with household cooking oil (60-120 ml). Roll the goat over and around to distribute the oil among the rumen contents.

If the goat is down and cannot rise, stab it with a sharp knife (or trochar and cannula) in the left flank behind the ribs, into the rumen, to release the gas. Bloat "oil" (or cooking oil) can be squirted or poured through the wound into the rumen to break up the foam and help release the gas. Then call the vet. to attend to the wound and any resulting infection.

For further details, see the agnote, "Sudden death in goats".

A useful first-aid kit

These items should be kept handy for emergencies: -

  • rolls of "Elastoplast" and elastic crepe

  • a large roll of cotton wool

  • surgical gauze

  • bandages

  • a sharp knife

  • disinfectants

  • absorptive lotions and creams

  • antibiotic powder

  • drenching gun

  • syringe and needles

  • clinical thermometer

  • clean towels

  • general poison antidote

  • bloat medicine

  • fly repellent cream

  • pair of artery forceps

  • large curved scissors

  • tweezers.

© 1981 Vic. Dept. Ag.