Article Index "Caseous Lymphadenitis or CL " Article Index

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By: Rosemarie Szostak, Ph.D.
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What is it and How is it Treated?
CL (caseous lymphadenitis) is a bacteria that is very good at protecting itself from attack from antibodies. The goats body, when realizing this devious bacteria was doing a good job battling its antibody defense, walls the bacteria off into an abscess. This way the bacteria won't be able to invade the rest of the goats body. Sometimes some of the bacteria slip into the lymph system before the original abscess can form, then the body forms another abscess around those stray bacteria to keep it out of the body.

The goats body is generally pretty good at abscessing all of the bacteria at the lymphatic point of entry. Thus, as most goat owners who treat CL abscesses find, a doe will only have one abscess. Once removed/treated it is gone (though the doe will still have the antibodies, after all she's been 'vaccinated' by the CL assault). Sometimes the goats defense system will miss a few and will have to form a second or third abscess to catch them all. With human intervention in the form of abscess removal or treatment, the animal can be 'cured'. If not treated the abscess bursts and those crafty CL bacteria will continue infecting the animal until it ultimately kills it. Of course bacteria want to survive so when an external abscess bursts the bacteria now has the opportunity to find itself another goat.

So what this means for the hapless goat owner who finds themselves in the situation where a goat of theirs has a CL abscess is that careful management is needed to assure that the CL abscess won't spread. This is done by making sure it doesn't burst and that it is removed/lanced/treated with formaldehyde without allowing the bacteria the opportunity to spread.

Be aware about CL. If you end up with a goat that has it make sure you treat it before it bursts so it won't spread. It has such a long incubation time that you'll be spending several years running around trying to make sure you've eradicated it.

CL Abscess Treatments
Removal--This requires a vets intervention. The vet will surgically remove the entire abscess intact.
Advantage: There is not a possibility that the CL can escape the abscess and further re-infect the goat.
Disadvantage: $$$$$, on the practical side, sometimes surgical removal is risky because of the location of the abscess. The vet could cut a nerve or critical blood vessel. A CL abscess located on the shoulder is easier to remove than a CL abscess located behind the ear. Trust your vet to tell you the risk for this procedure.

Lancing -- You can do this or the vet can do this. Use a sharp razor blade and open the abscess and expunge the puss into a piece of paper towel or something else as convenient to dispose. Then treat the entire area with iodine or anything else that will kill that biological threat we know as CL.
Advantage: Quick. Doesn't require anesthetic.
Disadvantage: Unless you are really 'obsessive' about cleaning out the abscess and burning, torching, or otherwise disposing the pus as hazardous biological waste, you may reinfect your goat.

Treatment of formaldehyde (this is the stuff they preserve dead body parts in)--You can do this, though your vet might just laugh at you with the suggestion. Formaldehyde 'pickles' the bacteria. Kills it dead. By injecting formaldehyde into the center of the abscess (1/2 to 1 cc) the bacteria is killed and after a week or so, the abscess will shrivel up and fall off.
Advantage: Quick. Cheap. No muss, no fuss.
Disadvantage: Formaldehyde is nasty stuff! If you miss the center of the abscess and inject the healthy tissue behind, you may permanently cripple the goat. This happened to me with one goat who jerked his head while I was injecting the formaldehyde into an abscess behind the ear. I hit a nerve. He lost the feeling along one side of his mouth. Dribbled cud from that point on. Made it difficult for him to eat. I just went ahead and put him down. The rest of the goats I've treated over the years, I made sure I had a Sumo wrestler holding them down so I didn't have that problem. All survived to go on and be productive members of my herd.

Working with formaldehyde requires some forethought and a lot of care. Wear gloves (surgical or rubber) because it is not good to contact it with your skin. I generally try to inject up to 1cc in the abscess. Most of the time I wait until the abscess has developed to the size between an acorn (large one) and a walnut (small one). Once it seems to be squishy to the touch, or I get impatient, I treat with the formaldehyde. Draw up 1/2 cc into your syringe and while someone is clamped down on the goat so that it can't move, push the needle into the center of the abscess, draw UP on the syringe. If light liquid comes out, you don't have a CL abscess, which means you need to abort the process. If nothing comes out, it's CL (generally) so you push down on the plunger injecting the 1/2 cc into the abscess. Withdraw the needle and place your finger over the 'hole' so that the formaldehyde doesn't leek out! Repeat the next day. After a week or so you will see the whole abscess shrivel up and slough off. It should be dead (theoretical assumption on my part, but based on the understanding of the chemistry of formaldehyde) by this point so you limit your risk of infecting any of the rest of your stock.

Doing nothing. BAD IDEA!!! In this zero-risk society, propagating potentially transmitted disease gets us no where and may ultimately get us regulated. Let's avoid this by taking care of problems ourselves.

Consult with your vet. Check out the herd that you buy your goats from - CL and former CL abscesses are easy to spot with inspection. Only buy from people you trust - don't buy breeding goats with no history, like from a sale barn, etc. If you're going to spend tons of money on a breeding goat get a contract/guarantee with the seller with regards to health problems.

OK and now for the disclaimers (my attorney insists on this!): What I've written is my opinion only. If you want to try any of the suggestions you do so at your own risk.

CL is not the end of the world. It is, however, a pain in the butt.

Been there. Done that. Without culling and by keeping a level head I've been able to eradicate Cl from my herd.

About the author: Rosemarie Szostak, Ph.D., Professor Department of Chemistry, Clark Atlanta University (on assignment with the Army Environmental Policy Institute). Thanks to Jack & Anita Mauldin Boer Goats for working together with GoatWorld to bring helpful information to the goat industry. Please visit for more helpful and up-to-date information regarding goat health.

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