Whether or not a goat gets sick with coccidiosis depends on several factors. One is the number of oocysts swallowed at one time. Small exposures, frequently repeated, lead to immunity. Large exposures destroy all the intestinal cells at one time and kill the kid. The age of the goat is also important. This is partly because the older animal has usually had time to develop some immunity. Also, very young kids are more fragile creatures. Good nutrition (including vitamin E-selenium supplementation in selenium deficient areas) helps the goat to defend itself against coccidiosis. Immunity to coccidiosis is rarely complete. This means that the healthy adult goat continues to pass many oocysts in her fecal pellets. However, most of her intestinal cells are safe from invading coccidia. As each of the 12 or so coccidia species is completely independent from the others, with no cross immunity, a goat that is happily living with one type of coccidia may develop diarrhea when exposed to a different type.
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Prevention of coccidiosis is very important in larger herds if young kids are to thrive. Once diarrhea has developed, most of the damage to the intestine that leads to stunting has already occurred. Sick kids are treated to save their lives and to limit contamination of the pens, but the owner has already lost control of this contagious disease. Several key facts will help to design a prevention program. The first is that the adult goats are the original source of infection for young kids, because they shed oocysts constantly. All old bedding and manure should be removed from the kidding pens before the new kids are born. Sporulated oocysts are commonly present on the skin of the udder; thus the kid may become infected at the same time as it takes its first drink of colostrum. The doe's udder should be washed and dried before the kid nurses or else the kid should be removed from its dam at once and bottle or pan fed the colostrum.
If only one doe and her kid are present on a farm, and the pens are dry and spacious, coccidiosis is not apt to be a problem. The kids may be safely left with the doe. In larger herds, it is best to raise kids completely separate from the adults until they are ready to breed. Even when rushed from the doe to a clean barn, kids still manage to pick up a few coccidia. As multiplication is rapid, a few can become many very quickly unless good sanitation is stressed. Fecal contamination of feed and water must be prevented. This means that feeders and waterers should be outside the pen whenever possible, and arranged so that fecal pellets can't fall in. Grain should be put in keyhole creep feeders rather than the open troughs that kids love to play and sleep in. Hay racks also must be covered to keep kids out.
Because oocysts have to sporulate to become infective, exposure can be reduced by cleaning the pens daily. Slotted floors are helpful. However, daily cleaning entails a vast amount of work and give disappointing results, if used alone. Ordinary disinfectants don't destroy oocysts. Even to concentrate on keeping the pens very dry, as moisture is necessary for sporulation. Leaking waterers should be fixed at once. Otherwise, the wet ground or floor around the water source is a perfect environment for oocyst sporulation. Small grassy ''exercise lots'' are also very dangerous and should not be used. It is very important to avoid overcrowding; spreading the kids out decreases the number of oocysts on any given square inch of pen floor or pasture. If many kids are present on the same farm, they should be grouped by age. Putting a 2-week-old innocent kid into a pen with kids 2 months old, where coccidial numbers and immunity have been building up for some time, is to invite disaster for the newcomer. Oocysts are killed by very cold temperatures (far below zero) or by hot dry conditions above 104. Thus, at the end of the kidding season, pens and feeders should be moved out into the hot sunshine for natural sterilization.
A variety of drugs may be given orally to treat the kid sick with coccidiosis. These include sulfa drugs such as sulfaguanidine and sulfamethazine, tetracyclines (aureomycin or terramycin), and amprolium (Corid R). Each of these has associated dangers if overdosed. Sulfas can cause kidney damage in the kid that is dehydrated. Tetracyclines will interfere with rumen function in older kids and adults. Very high levels of amprolium may lead to a fatal nervous disease, called polioencephalomalacia, because of a thiamin deficiency. Usually treatment is continued for about 5 days. Labels and veterinary instructions should be followed. If the diagnosis is not certain, and the kid may have bacterial enteritis or pneumonia rather than coccidiosis, sulfamethazine or tetracycline is usually given instead of amprolium.
About the author: Thanks to Jack & Anita Mauldin Boer Goats for working together with GoatWorld to bring helpful information to the goat industry. Please visit JackMauldin.com for more helpful and up-to-date information regarding goat health.