The Bloated Goat



Goats are fairly susceptible to bloat, which is the accumulation of gas in the rumen. If you think that you have an occasional problem with "gas," try to realize what a huge problem it is for old Suzie Q. She has this large kneading organ filled with lush feeds and digestive juices. As millions and millions of bacteria (and other micro-organisms) work on this stuff, one of the normal by-products of fermentation is gas, in rather huge amounts. In fact, it is such a large amount that environmentalists fear that the digestive process in ruminants (cud-chewing animals) is a major cause of global warming. But the everyday activities of walking, chewing, and stretching, in combination with unconscious muscular movements of the internal organs, esophagus and throat cause her to perform a simple, but life-saving activity hundreds or thousands of times every day: burp. Whenever anything interfers with this release of gas or if the digestion of the proteins occurs too rapidly (alfalfa) you have the condition known as bloat. It is easily recognized. The upper abdomen will stick out on both sides and up a little on the left side. This can lead to a gradation of difficulties ranging from mild discomfort to a critical life-endangering emergency. Additional signs can include: shivering, grinding of teeth, salivation, shortness of breath, grunting, kicking at the abdomen, breathing through the mouth, protrusion of the tongue and head held forward.
The most common cause of bloat is the ingestion of a larger amount of lush pasture or feed than can be handled by ordinary belching. The usual scenario is seeing old Suzie Q standing there with her sides all puffed out and obviously feeling just awful; then you suddenly remember that you left the gate open and that she had access to the grass clippings you recently raked up from the yard. (Another consequence of this disaster can be grass tetany.)

Bloat can also be caused by a large number of other events or diseases. These include:

--Choke, obstruction or foreign object in the esophagus
Before the bloat can be treated, the object must be dislodged (rather quickly). Something like a small apple can usually be felt from the outside by sliding your hand up and down the throat and neck. The first try should be to move it upward by gentle pressure with your fingers. Should that fail, the Heimlich maneuver should be given three or four attempts: Place the goat in the same position just as you would stand behind a person, clasp your arms around the belly just below the rib cage and squeeze sharply. This may raise the object far enough for you to reach into the mouth and retrieve it. If this fails, you must use a strong but flexible section of tubing to gently push the object down into the gut. If one of these procedures proves succesful, then you can move on to dealing with the bloat as below. If unsuccessful, it's a matter for your veterinarian.
--Tetanus, paralysis of jaw or facial muscles
This most difficult picture is due to the fact that tetanus is called "lockjaw" for a very good reason: the muscles of the jaw become extremely rigid. This leads to the termination of normal chewing and regurgitation activities which in turn lead to bloat since the gas is now trapped in the rumen. One must deal with tetanus and bloat simultaneously. This disease and other causes of paralysis may be best deal with by your vet.

In ruminants, indigestion is called indigestion because that's exactly what it is. Simply put, there's something in there that just won't digest properly. Normal rumen churning, cud chewing and microbial activity come to a halt; so also do bowel movements. Nothing happens except old Suzie Q just stands there looking at you thoroughly convinced it's all your fault because she feels so miserable. Because she is no longer chewing her cud and burping, any gases that she had managed to manufacture may remain in the rumen. Therefore, you can see that bloat does not always accompany indigestion, since the conditions are not always right for the production of more gas. Nevertheless, you have to get the gut working again through Probiotics, kneading of the abdomen, grafting a cud from a nearby chewer or any of a number of tricks. If the case is severe, you'll need to "lavage" (wash out) the rumen with a hose in order to get the inert mess out of there. (Perhaps you'd like to have your vet do this--since it's not a whole lot of fun.
--Displacement of one of the "stomachs"
This is a fairly common problem in the pregnant doe. As the babies begin to reach full size, and especially if there are a number of them, they begin to take up an awful lot of room. The expanding uterus will push the digestive organs into places and positions which may restrict the release of gases. This is normally not a life-threatening condition (except in some instances after delivery); but it can lead to minor bloating which can easily be remedied by feeding lesser quantaties of bulky roughage more frequently (and a little more concentrate to provide essential nutrients) and encouraging plenty of moderate exercise even in the late stages of gestation.
--Inappropriate sleeping positions
There will be the occasional instance, particularly in an older, crippled or pregnant doe, where she falls asleep with her head on a downhill incline or accidently rolls into that position. This can also happen to any animal which is caught in a feeder or fence or other object in such a position as to cause the head to be lower than the rest of the body. Gases will not be able to escape and the animal will become frightened and bloated. Usually, once she is released and calmed down, she will be able to pass the gas on her own; but she should be monitored for a few hours.
--Miscellaneous minor digestive disturbances, especially diarrhea in kids
Occasionally you will observe a kid that looks a little bloated (and possibly hunched) with no other dramatic signs to aid your diagnostic efforts. Then, a few hours later you will notice that it has diarrhea. There a those instances where they get into the wrong feed or something which causes a transitory disorder, of which bloat is merely the first sign. On the other hand, some cases of severe neonatal diarrhea are accompanied by bloat wherein aggressive treatment of the diarrhea is in order.
Clover mold
Esophageal stenosis (closure)
Larkspur poisoning
Milk fever
Milkweed poisoning
Poison hemlock
Red clover poisoning

Treatment choices

The word "choices" is used intentionally here because you really do have some choices in trying to treat bloat, depending on the severity of the situation. If there is just some slight expansion and the goat is still eating and moving about you certainly have a very different problem from the goat which is swollen "tight as a drum," prostrate and near death. We'll start with the easiest, least invasive technique which can be used in those cases of "mild" boat and move on to the heroics needed in real emergencies. Always remember that your veterinarian is more experienced in performing the drastic measures involved in the treatment of serious bloat.

Massaging and walking

Believe it or not, many cases of mild bloat can be dealt with by just spending some "quality" time with the patient. This is when it really pays to have a goat who is used to being handled. Elevate her front end by placing the front feet on some form of platform such as a milk stand, bench or ramp that is at least 12" off the ground. With moderate pressure, rub the abdomen for a few minutes. When you get tired of that, gently rub the front of the neck (area of the esophagus) and the throat. If you're brave, stick your finger in the side of her mouth and rub her tongue a little while stretching her neck forward slightly. This will almost always cause her to start burping. Alternate back and forth between the sides and the neck for a few cycles; then take her out for a little walk. Repeat the whole cycle a few times. If this process brings favorable results wherein the size of the abdomen has been visibly reduced, give her a dose of Probios®, let her be for a while and keep checking her every hour or so. If no improvement is noted, then you need to go to "the next level."
Bloat medicines

Now is the time to discuss the two different types of bloat. Simple or free gas bloat is rather straightforward in that the gas floats on the top of the rumen contents like the air at the top of a water tank. If you can open some form of passageway to the outside atmosphere, the internal pressure will cause the gas to escape. The more complex type is known as frothy or "legume" bloat wherein the gas is totally mixed in with rumen contents in a way that resembles whipped gelatin. In order to separate the gas from the rest of the mess you have to introduce something that will do this. The most common substance used is a product from your kitchen shelf: vegetable oil. Peanut oil is reportedly the best choice. (Others are corn oil, soybean oil; some sources say mineral oil can be used, but we don't recommend it.) If the patient is standing and capable of swallowing without difficulty, this can be administered with a large syringe or drenching gun. The use of a stomach tube is recommended below. The proper dose for a 130 lb doe is 6 to 8 oz.

There are also a number of pharmaceutical preparations for the treatment of bloat, the most popular of these being Therabloat®. Follow label directions for mixture and dosage information. Improvement should be noted within a few minutes.


Many sources will recommend that these medications be administered by means of a stomach tube. Likewise, in cases of simple bloat the gas can frequently be released by the passage of a tube, which does nothing more than provide an unimpeded connection between the rumen and the outside world. Since it is pretty hard to tell what type of bloat you are dealing with from the outside, the placement of a tube is not a bad idea in either case. If you have simple bloat, the tube should allow for the rapid release of the trapped gas. If it's frothy bloat, then you are all prepared to administer the liquid treatment. If you've never done it before, it can sound pretty scary. The main thing is to chose a tube large enough to allow for the passage of the fluid but not so large as to cause the collapse of the trachea (windpipe) which lies alongside the esophagus. In a goat, it is not possible to insert a tube large enough to allow for the release of frothy bloat. [Clear tubing such as that sold with wine-making supplies is excellent.] If, as the tube is being inserted, you notice that the animal is having trouble breathing, then you would want to use a smaller tube. (Initially there may be a brief change in respiration because of anxiety.) After the tube is in place, make sure there are no breathing sounds in order to confirm that you have not placed the tube in the lungs. Move the tube around a little to see if you can cause the release of any gas. If no gas escapes, then you probably have frothy bloat. Wait a couple of minutes for both of you to relax. Then slowly pour the liquid into the tube. We prefer to use a 60 ml syringe (without the plunger) on the end of the tube to pour into. After the total amount of the liquid has run down the tube, wait a couple of minutes to give the full length of the tube time to empty. You do not want to be pulling the tube out while there is still liquid in it because it will cause some of the this to drip into the lungs. Withdraw the tube rapidly. The massaging techniques mentioned above may be helpful at this point.
The trocar and other horrors

If none of the above have been successful or if you come across an animal which is in serious trouble, you may have to decide between your squeamishness and the death of your patient. The proper instrument for direct intervention in the case of gas bloat is called a "trocar" (or trocar and cannula),pictured here: trocar Put the pointed part with the handle through the tube. Aim for the highest spot on the left side and plunge the instrument right into the rumen. Withdraw the handle, leaving the tube in place. Gas will escape rapidly. The diameter of the tube on a regular trocar is too narrow to allow frothy bloat to escape fast enough, but antifoaming agents can be inserted through the cannula. Don't withdraw the tube until you are ready to suture the rumen, peritoneum and skin. Another good option would be to leave the tube in place and hasten to your nearest vet for the closing of the wound. The danger is that the rumen contents and/or dirt from the outside can get between the layers and cause a very serious infection called peritonitis. Don't let her drink any water.

Odds are pretty good, however, that you don't have a trocar in your vet box. Although we don't recommend it, you "can" use your pocket knife to make a 2" slice into the rumen. If you do this I'd recommend that you immediately insert some sort of 1" metal or hard plastic tube into the hole to help prevent peritonitis. Then head off to your vet immediately to get the damage repaired.

For frothy bloat the exit hole needs to be an inch or so in diameter. Therefore, it is best to rely on the anti-bloat agents mentioned above; if these don't work, you would be best to have your vet surgically remove the rumen contents.

I really hope that you've read all the way down to here BEFORE old Suzie Q is in real trouble. Reading about the trocar should be enough to encourage you to get enthusiastic about the simpler procedures at the top of the page. So when I say rub the abdomen before things get out of hand, think about that trocar and rub with vigor!

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