Several organisms can be responsible for the development of abscesses. These include:

Actinobacillus lignieresii
Actinomyces sp.
Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis
Corynebacterium pyogenes
Dermatophilus sp.
Pasteurella multocida
Staphylococcus albus
Staphylococcus aureus
Streptococcus sp.
Streptococcus suis - Normally found in pigs, occasionally in goats. Abscesses in jaw area with white, creamy pus. Use extreme care in handling or lancing because can be transmitted to humans (zoonotic). Antibiotics and quarantine are recommended after lancing.


While abscesses can occur on any part of the body, on goats they seem most likely to be found on or under the jaw (parotid and submaxillary glands), on the neck, shoulders (small lymph glands), rear legs, udder and sites of recent Clostridial vaccinations. Absceeses of the udder are discussed on our "Udder care" page (link below).
They usually start as fairly firm, round, raised areas that are not very painful to the touch. As they enlarge with time, they will tend to become softer and feel like they are filled with liquid. After reaching their maximun size, the contents will become a little firmer and the size of the swelling may reduce in size. At this point, the abscess may burst on its own discharging pus onto the skin and/or into the external environment. If it does not open and drain on its own, it will continue to shrink and become harder. There are instances in which the contents may be totally resorbed and the abscess will totally disappear. In other cases, a lump will remain in place for a considerable length of time.
Other diseases to consider:

Caseous lymphadenitis
Goat pox

Some sources indicate that you can identify the causative organism by means of the characteristics of the pus ("exudate"). This is a rather questionable statement even for a professional, much less a layman. Generally, a white or light creamy, smooth pus will be indicative of a fairly harmless condition, but there can be exceptions. In order to obtain an accurate diagnosis, you can obtain a culture kit from your veterinarian. Be sure to follow his/her directions exactly. A laboratory culture is a rather expensive procedure; a more reasonable alternative is a "gram test" which can eliminate some of the more dangerous causes. For more specific discussions of some of the organisms, go to the pages for the diseases listed above (when I have completed them!).

Should you call the vet?   [bold type applies]

DEFINITELY a matter for your veterinarian
Do these things until you can reach the vet
You may be able to handle it youself; for the moderately experienced
Fairly simple; give it a try!

Treatment options:

The progress of the abscess through its various stages as described above should be carefully monitored. We really feel that it is a mistake to allow it to burst on its own and spread its contents onto the ground, feeders, waterers or other animals. Rather, we feel that it is preferable to lance the abscess at its proper stage. Ideally, this is just before it bursts on its own. And, frankly, it takes a little experience to be able to tell when this is. If you wait too long, you save yourself the agony of having to do the cutting, but you will have possibly contagious organisms being spread all over the place. If you do it too early, there seems to be an increased chance of it returned after lancing.

Lancing: (Some recommend using warm compresses for a day or so before lancing to soften the skin.) Start by making sure that the area over and about 2 inches from the swelling are clean. Then, clip the hairs as short as possible over and about an inch around it. (Sharp scissors are adequate for this job.) Paint the entire abscess with 7% Tincture of iodine and wait a while for this to dry while you are preparing the rest of the equipment. With a sterile scalpel (NOT your pocket knife or a razor blade!) make an "X" with each cut about 3/8" to 1/2" in length only through the outer layer of skin. This will expose a shiny white membranous surface which can then also be cut in a simlar following the original "X". As you cut through this layer, pus will begin to escape from the opening. Do NOT squeeze the lump until you have completed both parts of the inner "X", but have a piece of paper towel ready to catch the stuff that comes out. (The purpose of lancing the abscess is to prevent the spread of the organisms; therefore, there's no sense in spreading the pus around while you're lancing it!) Having completed the "X", set down the scalpel and with one hand you can gently sqeeze the contents into a paper towel. Be ready to use several pieces of towel so that you don't spill any of the pus. Do not use excessive force and be alert to any blood vessels that may be rupturing. A trace amount of blood with the pus is not a casue of alarm and is somewhat normal. Excessive bleeding can usually be controlled with slight pressure (unless you have cut a major vessel with the scalpel, which is the reason for making the cut in two stages). When you feel that you have expelled all the contents, insert the clean tip of your iodine bottle (the little bottles which they sell for home permanents make excellent iodine dispensors) into the hole and squirt some directly into the evacuated area. (Hydrogen peroxide used to be used, but it is no longer recommended for fear that the bubbling action may force organisms deeper into the tissues.) Wipe the area carefully; a little water may be necessary to get it real clean.

If you feel that continuous drainage is necessary, cut a cotton swab in half and simply insert it into the hole. (This is a judgment call that takes a little practice.) If used, the swab should be removed in 12 to 24 hours. If there is considerable discharge, such as lymph or blood, it is helpful to put a little NTZ powder (Pinkeye Rx) on the wound to dry it and hasten scab formation. If flies are present, appropriate repellents can be applied. The wound should be observed daily for about a week. It may be necessary to expell the small amounts of pus that develop, but try to do this as gently as possible and be sure to dispose of the contents properly. If, after about a week, there seems to be excessive bleeding or persitent pus development, you should contact your veterinarian. Generally, antibiotics (shots) are not needed in the treatment of abscesses. In fact, it is generally recommended that antibiotics never be given until the abscess is lanced or starts to reduce in size. If the animal exhibits multiple abscesses, then appropriate antibiotic treatment would be in order as recommended by your veterinarian.

A special note is in order regarding those nasty little abscesses which sometimes occur at the site of Clostridial vaccinations ("CD/T", "7-way", etc). Do not be too hasty to lance these; wait for them to "ripen" fully. Frequently they will go away on their own.If you are raising animals for show, you may wish to give these shots in the armpit area where they will be less conspicuous.

Related "goatwisdom" pages:   

Udder Care

Thanks to James M. for the alert on Streptococcus suis.

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