Article Index "Formalin, Formaldehyde, & Caseous Lymphadenitis" Article Index

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By: Virgil "Doc" Fleming
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The injection of formalin into meat animals (dead or alive) for any reason is restricted. Likewise, the treatment of carcasses destined for human consumption with formaldehyde or formalin is restricted. What is formalin? What is formaldehyde? Simply put, preservatives and disinfectants.

Back in my marine biology days, we preserved our specimens in 10% formalin solution. In one of my projects, I collected shrimp from brackish water marshes and preserved them in formalin, later weighing and measuring each specimen. By the way, following one day of collecting, I chose to refrigerate my shrimp until the following day -- I returned to the lab that evening to discover my peers had eaten my project.

By the time I finished this study, just the casual handling of these shrimp over a three week period caused the skin on my hands to slough . . . I don't know why we didn't wear gloves. The skin peeled, my knuckles cracked, and I had numerous sores that took a long time to heal. The formalin continues to "preserve" the skin through absorption -- literally killing all living tissue. It took several weeks to get my hands back to normal.

I've heard discussions about using formalin in treating CL abscesses. In this disease of the lymphatic system, the prospect of abscesses throughout the body is very real -- anywhere a lymph gland is present. Using formalin, you might destroy the corynebacterium (corynebacterium psuedotuberculosis) in one abscess, but the lymphatic system is still infected. The abscesses we most often see are in the jaw line, neck, and shoulders. Since many more lymph nodes are found internally, the prospect of internal abscesses exists. So this would be a case of winning the battle, but losing the war. Remarkably, most infected animals are in otherwise good health. Anytime the immune system of a sheep or goat is engaged in battling an infection, the animal is not meeting its full growth and/or milk production, and is more susceptible to secondary infections.

Regarding the terminology, formaldehyde is a gas. Formalin (or formol) is the liquid product with 37% formaldehyde content. It can be used to treat excrement or to sterilize utensils. It is also used in preparation of toxoids from toxins (i.e., tetanus toxoid). Of course, you may already know that formalin is used to preserve human corpses -- the process of embalming. The most common veterinary use of formalin, is the use of the 10% solution in the treatment of foot rot. Since it is a strong disinfectant, it could (conceivably) be used as an antifungal. Whether in the gaseous form (formaldehyde) or the liquid form (formalin), it is one of the strongest disinfectants known -- bacteria cannot live in its presence; that's why embalmed corpses last so long.

In the construction world, formalin has been used in building materials. Have you ever toured a mobile home sales lot on a hot day? Once inside the home, were your eyes and perhaps your nose and throat irritated by a strong odor? Well, that's because the wall paneling and other wood products in the mobile home were treated with, you guessed it, formalin.

I don't know how prevalent it is, but formaldehyde is used to treat grain and forage products, however, if the concentration is too strong, it causes enteritis in the animals which consume it. Formalin treated grain is used in feed for cows to produce dairy products that have a high concentration of polyunsaturated fats. Once again, an improper mixture can have undesired effects, namely rumenitis and diarrhea. At some level, either the USDA and/or FDA is aware of and allows formalin in these practices. Formalin may also be used in fish farming operations or aquariums to treat fungal diseases.

Getting back to goats -- I would think that a 37% formalin injection would be so strong that it would not only destroy the corynebacterium in the abscess, but the adjacent muscle, skin, and possibly the bone. If the abscess is located on the jaw, the result could be worse than the CL to start with. What good is a goat that can't cud? The injection of 10% solution would effectively destroy the corynebacterium in the abscess, but you've still got a goat with CL, so what have you accomplished?

Trying to be open minded about this subject, the only legitimate reason I could see for the injection of formalin into a CL abscess would be to stop the prospect of an abscess rupturing on my property. That is, until I could properly dispose of the goat. It's my understanding, that in some countries outside of the United States, caseous lymphadenitis is viewed with no more concern than the common cold. But, here in the land of unlimited pharmaceuticals -- we can fret. Therefore, we do.

Caseous Lymphadenitis (CL) is a disease that affects both sheep and goats. The best advice that I can offer sheep and goat owners regarding this disease is to buy stock from herds that are certified CL free and to cull infected animals from their own herds. If lumps (abscesses) are found on your sheep or goat, that animal should be isolated in an area that can be sanitized -- away from the herd, because if the abscess should rupture, the exudate will contaminate pastures, feed bunks, and other common access areas. Since sheep and goats can get abscesses that are not CL, it's best to have a veterinarian take a sample from the abscess for testing. If an abscess is determined to be CL, it is my recommendation that the animal be culled. And, I strongly contend that it is unethical to knowingly sell an animal with CL without full disclosure to the buyer.

There is a CL vaccine approved for use in sheep. Some goat owners are vaccinating their goats with this vaccine -- this is clearly an off-label use of the vaccine and its efficacy in goats has not been clinically demonstrated.

About the author: This article was written by "Doc" Virgil Fleming of Jay, Florida. He raises African Boer, Nubian and Pygmy goats, owns a goat feed and veterinary supply business, and co-owns and moderates the 470 member Boergoats discussion group at Yahoo Groups. "Doc" volunteers as a Capri-Medic of References materials include: Raising Meat Goats for Profit by Gail Bowman, and Saunder's Comprehensive Veterinary Dictionary by Blood and Studdert.

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