Articles "Meningeal Worm Infection in Goats" Article Index

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By: Suzanne W. Gasparotto 11/28/99
Web Site:Onion Creek Ranch
About the Author

Rated 4.0 by 28 responses.

Goat producers who live in areas of high rainfall, whose land holds water,and where whitetail deer are abundant should be concerned about Meningeal Worm infection in their goats.

Sometimes called deerworm or brainworm, the parasite Parelaphostrongulus tenuis uses the whitetail deer as its host and passes through the deer's body without harming it. But with goats, the deerworm seems to "get lost" and winds up in the spinal canal . . . causing hind leg weakness and unsteadiness, progressing to hind leg dragging, inability to walk in a straight line, head wobbling from side to side, tremors, and finally inability to stand. Once the larvae migrate over the body, the goat experiences intense itching and may begin chewing holes in its hide. Shaving the hair off the sites where itching and chewing are occurring will usually reveal a straight line of hard nodules over which the skin has thickened leading from the spine. These are the subcutaneous larvae migrating throughout the goat's body. Pregnant does may abort from either the stress of the disease or the treatment given.

Goats who develop Meningeal Worm infection get it by ingesting the intermediate host, a slug or snail, while browsing in wet areas, such as ponds or swamps, or under dead leaves, branches, and trees. Warm weather in early winter and the resulting lack of snow cover has made this disease quite common in the eastern part of the United States. Goat producers who raise alpacas, llamas, or related ruminants will find that these camelids are more susceptible to Meningeal Worm disease than goats or sheep.

The producer should suspect Meningeal Worm disease if the goat displays neurologic signs or any problem involving the spinal cord, from leg dragging to inability to get up. The disease can be a slow progression of symptoms or can strike suddenly. Pneumonia is a common secondary problem, given that the goat is down and therefore inactive. The only good part of this disease is that most animals do not seem to be in pain (other than the itching); most eat and drink well right up until death occurs.

Treatment involves very high dosages of injectable ivermectin. Ivermectin paste or pour-on are not effective. Injectable Ivomec should be given at a rate of 1 cc per 55 pounds bodyweight for at least three days, followed by a double-the-cattle dosage of fenbendazole (Safeguard or Panacur) for five days. If the goat is down and can't get up on its own, the chance for recovery is not good. An anti-inflammatory drug like Banamine can be useful in alleviating the inflammation of nerve tissue. Dexamethozone may also be used, but it can cause abortions in pregnant does.

This treatment, if utilized early in the disease, can stop its progression but cannot undo any nerve damage. Permanent spinal damage (including curvature), weakness in the hindquarters, and/or inability to deliver kids may be the residual effect of Meningeal Worm infection. Once the spinal cord is damaged, treatment can only do so much and the goat will never be back to full health. Producers should let at least one month pass before becoming convinced that the animal has been successfully treated.

In the northern and eastern parts of the United States, most infections occur in late summer/early fall or early winter, following a wet summer and mild fall. The larval migration of P. tenuis can take from ten days to over three months, so some producers are using injectable Ivomec monthly for up to four months during the at-risk seasons. This, of course, can get very expensive for meat-goat producers.

Although laboratory testing of the cerebrospinal fluid produces an accurate diagnosis, the key to treatment of Meningeal Worm infection is early aggressive treatment. If all indications tell the producer that the goat is infected with P. tenuis, forget the testing and get on with treatment.

Prevention is difficult. The only proven preventative medication is administering injectable Ivomec monthly during slug and snail season. Fence off ponds and swamps so goats cannot become exposed to slugs and snails. Treatment can be unsuccessful, even when the disease is caught in its early stages. Prevention is the key to avoiding this devastating disease.

About the author: Suzanne W. Gasparotto owns and operates Onion Creek Ranch in Buda, Texas, the official home of the Onion Creek RanchTM. She currently writes articles for several Goat related publications and is a highly respected individual in the industry. Suzanne also runs and maintains ChevonTalk - a discussion list dealing with all aspects of raising goats. We recommend this important and informative list to anyone involved in the husbandry of goats.

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