Goat Polio - from the Summer of 2019

Haven’t had a case of goat polio in a really long time but had one yesterday. Here’s how it went if you haven’t had one. Morning – goat looks a bit odd, standing with her neck stretched up and to the side and her head at an odd angle. She comes in to eat but doesn’t eat. I make a note to check on her. I immediately forget the note.

A few hours later I look out and she is standing off alone, again with her head at an odd angle and stiff front legs. I call her name and she moves her head toward the sound. She is looking at me but can’t see me. Okay I’m slow but I get it, I go for the thiamine. It expired three years ago, because there hasn’t been a case of goat polio in a really long time. The regular vitamin B is empty – because I use it all the time and always have it on hand. Except when I need it.

I go to the feedstore and luckily they have fresh Vitamin B. I get home. She is down on the ground on her side, paddling her feet trying to get up. I grab her and try to set her on her sternum and she goes into a seizure, arches her neck and thrashes her head and legs against the side of the barn. I hold on the best I can but when it’s over her face and legs are scraped and bleeding. Get her inside the barn and load her up with vitamin B. She can’t hold herself up so I wedge her between two grain bins to keep her from flopping over. Oddly she can still swallow and she swallows about eight ounces of orange Gatorade, ounce by ounce from a syringe. She still can’t see.

Three hours later, more Vitamin B and Gatorade. She can see me now. Four hours later more Vitamin B and she drinks some water and eats some alfalfa. In the morning she is out from between the grain bins and sleeping peacefully – got herself out somehow and now can lie without falling over on her side. Try to stand her up but she can’t hold herself up. More Vitamin B. More hay. Three hours later she is standing at the door, crying to go out with her hoodlum friends.

Not today, dingleberry. Maybe tomorrow.

POLIOENCEPHALOMALACIA...If you haven't had a case yet, it's just a matter of time. Goat polio is a potentially deadly malady that every goat breeder will encounter sooner or later - one of many reasons to keep Vitamin B on hand. Always.

Thiaminases are enzymes that split thiamine (vitamin B1, a crucial metabolic compound), and render it inactive. Some plants – the chief culprit is usually bracken fern – contain thiaminases and overconsumption can lead to goat polio.

More frequently, though, thiaminase poisoning in ruminants is caused by grain overload – eating too much grain, or a new kind of grain, which can alter the pH of the rumen and cause certain bacteria to grow out of balance. These bacteria, including Clostridium sporogenes and some species of Bascillus, can produce enough thiaminases to cause ‘goat polio’ with its characteristic symptoms of blindness and disorientation.

a case of polio in sheep
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