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One of the leading causes of death in male goats is Urinary Calculi. It’s a painful, terrible way for a goat to die, and most owners don’t realize it’s an issue until it’s too late. If you keep bucks or wethers, it’s essential that you’re familiar with Urinary Calculi, and how to prevent it.
What is Urinary Calculi?
Urinary Calculi (often referred to as just “UC”) happens when crystals form in the urinary tract and block the flow of urine. The urine then backs up into the bladder, and the bladder or urinary tract can become perforated or ruptured. If this happens, the goat will die quickly.
UC is typically found in male goats, as their urethra is long and narrow. Female goats usually have the ability to flush the crystals out of their system naturally. There have been cases of UC in does, but it is extremely rare.
A buck or wether experiencing UC is usually easy to spot. Some of the most obvious symptoms are:
- Stretching and straining to urinate for minutes at a time and only small drops or dribbles coming out, if anything
- Dark colored or bloody urine
- Hunching, teeth grinding, head pressing – clear signs of pain
- Swelling or discoloration in the penis area
- Acting “constipated”
- Crying, moaning, or showing distress while trying to urinate
Preventing Urinary Calculi
UC is incredibly hard to treat once it develops. Prevention is the key. The primary cause of UC is a rich grain diet that does not have a good Calcium to Phosphorous ratio. When selecting a grain for bucks or wethers the most important consideration is to make sure your Calcium to Phosphorous ratio is at least 2 to 1. The levels of Calcium and Phosphorous are clearly identifiable on any grain bag tag. Most meat goat feeds have a good ratio, and usually have added Ammonium Chloride, a key component in battling UC.
Show bucks and wethers are usually at the highest risk for UC because they have the highest instances of being fed grain rich diets. All male goats should primarily have a diet of good quality hay and browse. Legume hays (clover, alfalfa, etc.) are a great source of extra calcium. Cereal grains such as corn, wheat and barley are high in Phosphorous and should be avoided.
Ensure your loose minerals are properly balanced. This can be a place where that Calcium to Phosphorous ratio can be easily overlooked. Making sure your goats are properly hydrated is also very important in preventing UC. Many cases of UC pop up in the winter months when water intake is low. Adding salt or electrolytes in extreme temps, hot or cold, can help ensure good hydration.
Adding Ammonium Chloride as a top dress to your boy’s feed can help prevent UC. It’s also good to have on hand in case it’s needed as a drench for treatment. Adding raw apple cider vinegar to drinking water can also help as a preventive.
There has been a lot of debate on whether castrating early (in the first few weeks) contributes to UC in wethers. There have not been any conclusive findings on this, as most of the wethers who experience UC also have a feed imbalance involved. The claims are that wethering early doesn’t allow for the urinary tract to fully grow and develop, making it more susceptible to blockage. There is also thought to be a genetic component that can cause certain lines to be more susceptible to UC, so keep that in mind when researching buying a new buck. Once again, as far as I know, there have been no conclusive studies done on this, or early wethering, and most experts agree that feed is primary cause of UC.
Treating Urinary Calculi
Treating UC can be very challenging. Catching it quickly and treating right away is the key to treating it successfully. If there is still urine passing through, sometimes drenching with a solution of Ammonium Chloride can break up the stones and resolve the issue. There are also some home remedies out there that can be used as a drench in this instance, but I can’t say how effective those are.
If the blockage is complete, the next course of action is to see if you can resolve it by snipping off the pizzle. Often the stones will collect in the end of the penis, and removing the pizzle can resolve the blockage. This can be done yourself in an emergency situation, but contacting a vet is always the best option with any kind of surgical procedure.
More serious option involve calling a vet to remove a blockage that is further up in the urinary tract. There surgical options are expensive, and don’t always save the life of the goat. If the goat does make it, the chances that the UC will come back is fairly high.
Because UC is a horrible way for a goat to die and can be fatal so quickly, proper preventative management is the key to avoiding this happening on your farm. When we sell wethers or bucklings, we always advise our buyers of the dangers of UC, and proper feeding guidelines for male goats.
Take the time to reevaluate your goat’s feed now and again to make sure it’s well balanced. For male goats, a regular dose of Ammonium Chloride added to any grain ration is an easy way to help prevent UC. We do this by offering our boys regular treats of IP Freely goat treats from BiteMe!, which are specially formulated again UC.