Anaphylaxis (anaphylactic shock)




If you raise a whole lot of animals, sooner or later you will experience the horror of anaphylactic reaction. This is the sort of thing which you hear about in humans as a fatal reaction to a bee sting, or in some people who eat fish or shell food, or a severe reaction to some medications, especially powerful antibiotics injected in a hospital setting. It is, without a doubt, a critical life-threatening situation which, if left untreated, will usually result in sudden death. The typical scenario on the farm is that a perfectly healthy, normal animal is given a vaccination and in 5 to 30 minutes is completely and irreversibly dead.

For the goat raiser, the most likely causes of an anaphylasctic reaction are: vaccinations (especially if outdated or previously opened),injectable antibiotics (especially pencillin) and insect bites. Just because there was no reaction to the first exposure does not mean that the second onewill be safe; in fact, the second one may be more dangerous in that the animal has been "sensitized" by the first one (which is part of the technical definition of anaphylaxis).


The first sign that you will notice will be a slight difficulty in breathing. This will gradually worsen and, as airways become more restricted, you will begin to see foam coming out of the mouth (and possibly the nostrils). By this time, the animal will be recumbant (down) and weakening rapidly. In some species there may be hives, "plaques" or other unexplained swellings in the skin (but we have never observed this in farm animals). As the "critical" point approaches, the eyes will be noticeably sunken and the tongue (which will become blue) may protrude from the side of the mouth, which may now show a considerable amount of foam. If untreated, death will follow shortly, sometimes preceeded by convulsions or trembling.

Many sources indicate that there can be "mild" cases of anaphylaxis. This is, perhaps, a dangerous concept. Whenever you are presented with the collection of symptoms described above and which can obviously be linked to a recent vaccination, antibiotic injection, insect bite or other known activity of this sort, it is best to assume that you are NOT going to be witnessing a "mild" anaphylactic response.

Other diseases to consider:

Difficulty rating:   [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:

Make no mistake about it: anaphylaxis is a serious, life-threatening situation. However, if you act with haste, you can become a genuine "hero." This is where you will be grateful that you have purchased all the items suggested in our Medicine Cabinet page and have periodically weighed all of your animals. For each 100 pounds of body weight, inject subcutaneously 1 ml (1 cc) of epinephrine. This can be given along the neck, shoulder or back, whichever is easiest. If you have no idea of the weight of your patient, a typical full grown doe will weigh between 120 and 150 pounds; therefore 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 ml will be a good guess. If all goes well, your "near death" patient will be up and walking within a few minutes to an hour or so. The response is really quite spectacular. If the response is less than desirable, you can given a second shot an hour or so later. But remember that epinephrine is a very potent drug and can provide a little too much stimulus to the heart.

If you do have a true "mild" case, which might better be described as a regular allergic reaction, human anti-histamine tablets will help to reduce some of the symptoms; but be sure to have the epinephrine ready!


Always make sure that you do not use vaccines that are outdated or have been opened (previously had a needle stuck in them) for any length of time. If you are careful to observe each animal for about an hour after every shot, you will be able to administer epinephrine before the situation gets completely out of hand.

Additionally, now that we have convinced you to keep a bottle or two of epinephrine in the refrigerator, be sure to check the expiration date and reorder when necessary. And please remember that epinephrine is a very powerful drug (hormone) and should never be used carelessly. Over-administration can cause rapid death.

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