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Lauren Green
Lauren Green

I have raised goats, cattle and horses all my life.  This article is intended to explain what is going on with pregnant does that develop a condition called pregnancy toxemia, how to possibly prevent it, diagnose it and what works in my herd (U-BAR Boers) to treat it. 

 

Pregnancy toxemia is the same as preeclampsia in women.  It’s a metabolic disease of does that occurs in the final weeks of pregnancy (usually the last 1 to 3 weeks).  Signs of the condition, due to low glucose (sugar) levels in the blood include a gradual decrease in food intake, depression or inactivity, down and unable to rise, tremors, wobbly gait, weakness, swelling of the feet, weight shifting, walking tenderly as if their feet hurt, and teeth grinding.  If left untreated or not treated quickly enough, this condition can result in the death of the doe and her kids. 

 

Pregnancy toxemia is typically seen in does carrying more than two kids. Does who are obese, very thin or have a heavy parasite load are also more at risk. The condition develops due to a reduced ability to consume enough food and obtain energy from their diet to meet the energy demands of the doe and her kids.  80% of the growth of the kids occurs during the last 6 weeks of gestation.  As the doe’s uterus enlarges, there is less room for her stomach (rumen) to fill with feed or there simply may be no way for the doe to eat enough or she may not have enough offered.  In order to meet the nutritional requirements of the growing kids and still maintain her own body, the doe’s liver begins to convert stored fat into sugar for energy.  This process (gluconeogenesis) is also what causes the ketone production and why it is critical that the doe be in good condition, not thin, obese or have a heavy parasite (worms) load and have plenty of good feed available in the last weeks prior to kidding.  I also recommend worming with a good broad-spectrum wormer (Not Valbazen) 30-45 days prior to kidding and again about a week after kidding when the stress of kidding and making milk lowers the does’ resistance to parasite infestations.  If you wormed the affected doe earlier, have a fecal checked to be sure internal parasites haven’t occurred again because an acquired worm load can cause pregnancy toxemia as well.


If at all possible, an ultrasound at 45-50 days of pregnancy is highly recommended to identify does carrying more than two fetuses.  This allows for more intensive management and observation of those that are more prone to the development of pregnancy toxemia.  If ultra-sounding is not possible, pay particular attention to does that are overly large for their stage of gestation and monitor their eating habits and behavior closely.  Make note of the ‘pecking order’ during feeding time and make sure some are not being pushed out and not receiving adequate nutrition.  If that happens separate those does that are more timid and feed them separately.


Pregnant Boer goat
Chances are good that a doe that looks like this is carrying more than just twins.

To have any chance of correcting the condition, paying close attention to the does activity, appetite, gait and overall attitude is key.  I can’t stress enough that early diagnosis is critical to managing this potentially fatal condition. Once the doe is down and refuses to get up, or if ketone levels have been high and 2 days of drenching have not reduced ketone levels to moderate or low, the decision must be made to induce or have a C-Section performed.  In some cases, the doe is more important to the breeding program than the kids and the kids may have to be sacrificed.  It is extremely risky to not induce a doe with high ketone levels that are not responding to treatment.  If left too long, the doe may lack sufficient energy to even deliver the kids and the risk of losing both the doe and the kids is great.  It is also possible for the kids to die due to pregnancy toxemia and leave the doe with a potentially fatal infection called septicemia.

 

*Note:  If the doe has had to be induced it is fairly common for her to experience

a retained or incomplete passing of the placenta.  Very small doses (1/4 cc every four hours for 3-4 doses) of oxytocin can help with problem sometimes but extreme caution must be exercised with this drug.  You should consult your veterinarian if the doe does not pass the afterbirth within a few hours after kidding.  Never attempt to assist removal of the placenta by pulling on it.  Please read the separate article on what to possibly expect if you are forced to induce a doe.

 

Preventing pregnancy toxemia involves four management goals. 

  • Show or obese does should lose excess weight and very thin does should be fed to gain some weight prior to breeding and all bred does should be maintained on a maintenance diet until the final month of pregnancy at which point their feed intake should gradually be increased.  Growing kids more than double a doe’s nutritional requirement.

  • There should be ample room for exercise (which is extremely important), and control of other conditions that might result in reduced feed intake or increased energy demand, such as parasitism, adequate shelter from bad weather or illness. You may also worm and vaccinate your does about 30 days prior to kidding.  (I worm, boost the CDT vaccination and give Vitamins E,A,D, and a BoSe injection 30 to 45 days prior to kidding.)

  • During the last 3-4 weeks of pregnancy, monitor suspect does for the signs of pregnancy toxemia (usually rears it’s ugly head on day 21 from due date or sometime after that) and test their urine daily using Ketostix. Make sure the Ketostix’s have not expired, they have a fairly short shelf life.   As soon as a doe gets up, she will usually urinate, have the Ketostix ready and insert it into the urine stream, or catch some in a cup and dip the stick into it and wait 10 to 15 seconds. (I save some of the 6 or 12 cc syringe covers to use a urine catchers – they’re free and you can have some in every pocket and corner of the barn.) Separate the doe (put a buddy in with her if possible), increase feed intake, and begin drenching at the first sign of ketones.  Worm or insure your does are free of parasites that can drain their energy resources.


Ketostix – can be purchased at any drug store or pharmacy

Ketostix
Ketostix
  • Does confirmed carrying 3-4 fetuses or those showing ketones on the Ketostix should be offered continual access to a high energy feed during the last month of gestation. (Feed that contains some of the following corn, milo, barley, wheat or cottonseed meal, soybean hull pellets and the label reads 16% or more protein.  I do not feed whole or ‘just’ cracked corn as it can lead to founder and other issues.) Prepared feed containing the additive Rumensin or Monensin can also be helpful as those ingredients increase feed utilization in the rumen. At 3 to 4 weeks prior to kidding, increase the feed amount and quality gradually so as not to upset the normal function of the rumen, which could also cause pregnancy toxemia as well.


Treating pregnancy toxemia.

Again, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it cannot be stressed enough that diagnosing the early stages of pregnancy toxemia is key to the success of treating it.  Have the Ketostix readily available, (again, an empty syringe case works well and is good to catch urine if you need to) and test suspect or multiple (more than 2 kids) does daily.  Have the ingredients listed in the drench recipe below before kidding season arrives.



Dosing Syringe – Drencher (Different sizes available) Also showing a calf drencher which works great when giving larger doses.  Valley Vet and other livestock supply business offer different sizes of drench guns.  Given the large volumes that need to be given in most cases, a 150 ml to 300 mil drench gun or calf drencher makes it much easier to administer the correct amount of drench. 


Pregnancy Toxemia Recipe

Equal parts of:

50% dextrose

CMPK (best) or Calcium Gluconate

Amino Acids

Blue Lite, Keep ‘N On or other form of electrolytes (2 scoops of Blue Lyte or 1 bottle of Keep ‘N On mixed with water)

Dyne