If you're a goat, getting stoned is no fun
Every year, we treat several goats, a few sheep and the occasional camelid for urinary tract obstruction. Obstructions occur from urinary calculi which are mineral/mucoprotein composites that can range in size from sand particles to small pebbles. The most significant clinical sign for urinary tract obstruction is straining to urinate with or without vocalization. However, the early signs may include a lack of interest in food and standing off alone. Most of the time, we see these blockages in castrated males. The male anatomy in small ruminants is different from what you might think! There is a “sigmoid flexure” in the penis, meaning that it bends back and forth on itself (in an "s" shape) before it exits the abdomen. In this flexure is where small stones might collect. However, these small ruminants also have another small piece of anatomy at the very tip of the penis which is known as the urethral process or “pizzle.” The pizzle is a thin, long piece of soft tissue with a very small opening and stones also become lodged at the very end of the urethra just as they are about to exit the penis. Development of stones in some of these small ruminants may be correlated with early castration and/or diet. We recommend waiting until at least 2 months of age before castration to allow adequate development of the urinary tract. There may also be a genetic component that predisposes small ruminants to developing stones no matter how hard you try to prevent them from occurring.
Here are a few recommendations to help prevent stone development in your small ruminants, since treatment, while often effective can also sometimes be riddled with complications.
- Feed only orchard grass hay.
- Unless you have lactating does or are preparing your small ruminant to show, do not feed legumes (alfalfa).
- Offer clean water at all times.
- During the spring and summer when the weather becomes hotter and potential for dehydration increases, spray the hay with salt solution to encourage drinking. The more water ingested, the less concentrated the minerals and mucoproteins in the bladder and less likely to form stones.
- Trade out your goat and sheep minerals for a white salt block. I know this recommendation comes as a surprise, but we very rarely see nutrient deficient small ruminants and the tendency for urinary calculi development and obstruction is a far greater concern.
- Ammonium chloride may also be an added treatment for one week out of every month, but please discuss this medication with your veterinarian first.
We encourage anyone with concerns or questions to call for a free phone consultation