Our doe just had an abortion (or delivered dead babies), her udder is very hard and I can’t get any milk out; what is going on?

You have worked very hard for a couple of years to get Suzie Q raised up and bred and you were so eagerly looking forward to watching her with her first little ones only to have her abort. All you have to show for it is a couple of dead little things that you have to dig a hole for. She doesn’t feel very well, refuses to eat; her new little udder is hard, sore and she doesn’t want you messing with it. You have kicked the dog, blamed your spouse, yelled at the kids and, when no one was looking, had a little bit of a cry.

And if you think that that is bad, consider this scenario: You have developed your herd to the point where you now have thirty or so does, all with real good breeding, good udders, wonderful personalities and all that. It is delivery season and almost all of them have delivered stillborn or very weak kids; you have an obvious epidemic on your hands—a crisis not only for the goats but also for your own sanity.

In any of these situations, it is easy to become totally overwhelmed. You’ve looked at books, talked to sympathetic friends and called the vet. But you still can’t make heads or tails out of the whole mess. All the descriptions of the diseases which can cause abortion are so confusing and you discover they’re talking about cows anyhow. But you know you have some horrible bug crawling around your farm wrecking havoc on everything in sight.

In this introductory section we will try to:

Familiarize you with the causes of abortion or weak kids
Acquaint you with some of the options
Cover some of the causes of reduced milk supply that can accompany an abortion
Help you develop the confidence to overcome the problem and get on with the enjoyable task of raising goats

Start by reading all the way through this first section. One of the reasons for trying so hard to present a unique discussion of this topic is that we have been down this abortion epidemic road. The learning process was very agonizing. We may not be able to hit upon an exact diagnosis for you, but hopefully we can ease the frustration just a little bit. Having a look at a broad overview of the topic is a much better way to start than to dive deeply into each specific disease.

Causes of abortion, a preliminary overview
An abortion or the delivery of very weak kids that have little chance of survival can be the result of serious generalized infections of the dam wherein the abortion is only a "minor" or secondary symptom. These diseases include:

Contagious caprine pleuropneumonia

There are several infectious diseases where abortion is the primary symptom; these are generally considered as diseases of the reproduction process and frequently occur in epidemics known as an "abortion storm." These are the things that generally send shivers through all livestock producers and cause millions of dollars in losses to the agricultural community each year. And, unfortunately, some of them are rather frequent visitors to the goat raiser. If you have multiple abortions in your herd, chances are pretty good that the cause will be found in this short list.

Campylobacter fetus (Vibrio or vibrionic abortion)
Chlamydial abortion
Epididymitis (Brucella

The following deficiencies can lead to abortion, weak or stillborn babies:

Caloric deficiency
General nutritional deficiencies
Iodine deficiency
Manganese deficiency
Protein deficiency
Vitamin A deficiency
White muscle disease

Poisonings can also be the cause of abortion:

Nitrate/nitrite poisoning
Selenium poisoning
Sweet clover poisoning
Western yellow pine poisoning

There are a few other, rather weird miscellaneous disorders that can cause these problems but which don’t fall into any neat, tidy category:

Border disease (Hairy shaker)
CNS congenital anomilies
Myopathies, general
Rift Valley fever

Make a note as to when the abortion takes place. These periods are generally referred to as the first third, middle third and last third of gestation. Furthermore, an "abortion" may show up at the end of a very normal appearing pregnancy, causing delivery a few days early or on time but with stillborn or weak offspring or a fetus which has obviously been dead a long time and which probably have to be manually removed.

And now for a further complication of the problem:

Abortions or the delivery of dead/weak kids are frequently accompanied by severe problems in milk production. Some examples: the doe may never produce any milk (not a single drop!); she may appear at first to have some milk and then dry up; she may produce just a small amount of milk; she may produce a lot of milk, have no babies to take it and have a rapidly growing and very painful udder. It may be nearly impossible to determine if the problems with the udder are related to the disease which caused the abortion; in some cases they will be and in others they may not. (Now your vet won’t talk to you that way, will he/she?) Nevertheless, you will have to deal with the problem.

And for a final complication: it is relevant to ask what percentage of the herd is affected? Obviously, if you own only one doe and she has an abortion, you have a 100% abortion problem, but it would be hard to make guesses about the infection rate. But if you have 100 does and only one abortion, you can be fairly confident that you are not dealing with a serious infectious disease. You would, therefore, begin to look elsewhere for causes. But when you start having numerous abortions within a large herd, then the matter becomes grave. You have to start puzzling out which of the many causes is creeping through your herd like an invading army. You will want to enlist the aid of a qualified diagnostic laboratory to test the fetus, the afterbirth and the dam for indicators of the more common abortion-causing diseases. You may, depending on the results, want to test all members of the herd. By the time this whole process is over, you will learn a lot about disease, antibodies, titers and all sorts of technical terms you may have never heard of before.

Now, let’s take a moment to summarize what we have covered so far:

In using the term "abortion" we are talking about a large number diseases or disorders which can include the delivery of dead or weak offspring.

The defining event can occur at any time during the pregnancy and may also be the culmination of a gestation of normal duration.

The causes of abortion include:

Generalized infections
Infectious diseases where abortion is the primary symptom

An abortion is frequently followed by problems in milk production, which may or may not be related to the cause of the abortion.

The percentage of the herd affected by abortions may be helpful in determining the cause and the level of response to it.

General treatment considerations

When you have an abortion or delivery of stillborn or extremely weak kids, you should do as much as you can to try to discover the cause. A fetal death in late pregnancy is almost always infectious in origin; if more than one doe aborts, then you definitely have to consider the presence of a disease. In these cases, the fetus, afterbirth and blood from the doe should be submitted to a diagnostic laboratory by your veterinarian.

Abortions in early gestation are fruently due to the ingestion of toxic substances from plants or environmental contaminants. Other non-infectious causes include: malnutrition, Vitamin A deficiency, crowding, injury, fatigue, shock, drugs (including some wormers), poisons or chemicals.

In an abortion, there will not be the usual enlargement and discharges from the vulva. There will be little falling of the sides by the root of the tail. Frequently, there will be no preparatory signs whatsoever, especially if early in the pregnancy.

After an abortion, the afterbirth and bedding should be burned. She should be isolated from other members of the herd until a diagnosis has been completed. Treat her just as if she has delivered, with lots of "TLC." The abortion causes page may suggest some treatment measures for specific abortion-related diseases. Otherwise, give the doe a long-acting broad spectrum antibiotic such as LA200® or 48hr penicillin. Taking her temperature may provide some information about the seriousness of an infection (but not always). If she has a high temp or is in obvious pain, she can be given aspirin or other pain killer as recommended by your vet. Symptomatic treatment of other signs such has runny eyes or lameness may help her feel better.

If she has an infection of the uterus, that should be treated aggressively with Nolvasan® suspension or uterine boluses.

Pay careful attention to the cleanliness of the tail, vulva and back of the udder, keeping discharges frequently cleaned off.

Nutritional needs should receive careful attention. If she will not be producing milk, you will want to avoid large amounts of high protein feeds; but a well-balanced ration should be provided. It is extremely important that she not go "off feed" (stop eating) at this time of high stress. Make sure that she has access to her "favorite" treeats as well as leaves, branches, fresh grass, balanced concentrate ration and the like. If in doubt, it is much more important that she continue EATING than that she eat "properly." For once she stops eating, the situation can become grim real rapidly. If she has surviving babies to feed or if you decide to milk her, or at least to try, then she should receive a normal diet.

Pay attention to her general health. Has she been recently wormed? Does she need to be treated for liver flukes? Parasitic infections seem to blossom during times of stress.

Finally, there are some situations where it is probably best not to rebreed a doe who has aborted due to a serious disease. Even worse, the owner should consider removing from the herd a doe who could be a carrier of a serious infectious disease. These decisions are best made in consultation with your veterinarian.

For help in sending things to a lab, click HERE


Following an abortion or a difficult delivery, particularly if there are no surviving kids, a common sequela is a failure to produce a normal supply of milk. There may even be a total lack of milk production. This situation has to be "played by ear," since the udder may completely dry up no matter how hard you try. On the other hand, by keeping at it and gently mlking her two or three times a day, you can sometimes nurse the udder back to full (or near full) production.

For information purposes, the following is a list of some of the diseases which can cause a drop in milk production. Any of these can occur in combination with an abortion or unsuccessful delivery. In fact, the digestive disorders such as displaced abomasum, indigestion, etc. do occur quite regularly following a difficult delivery ("hard pull"): (The page numbers can be searched for, where the topics have been completed)



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