Goats belong to the family of ruminants, which includes animals such as cows, sheep, and deer.
A ruminant animal chews cud regurgitated from its rumen, the first of four chambers in the stomach.
Food is then fermented in the stomach until it is completely digested.
A healthy goat will usually expel excess gases from the fermentation of food by burping and belching.
This complicated digestion process sometimes causes issues in goats, most notably a swollen belly.
So why does your goat have a large belly?
A big belly in goats is usually caused by parasites, overeating, or the inability to expel the excess gas produced by the fermentation in the stomach. Goat bloat is often a severe problem and may be fatal to the animal within a few hours if not treated quickly.
Baby goats are particularly susceptible to digestive issues when transitioning from milk to hay and grains.
While bloating in goats does not always indicate a serious problem, it is best to seek veterinary care for the correct diagnosis and treatment.
Read on to learn what causes bloating in goats and how to treat and prevent it.
What Causes Bloating in Goats?
There are several causes of bloat in goats; the most common is overeating.
When a goat chews its food, it naturally produces bicarbonate, which aids digestion.
A goat produces a lot of bicarbonate when eating hay, but pelletized feed or grain requires less chewing, so less bicarbonate is produced.
Goats are also known for being escape artists, and they may find chicken or pig feed to gorge on during their adventures.
Related Reading: Goats eating chicken feed and what to watch for
This type of bloating is commonly referred to as “hay belly.”
It may also occur when a goat contracts parasites and overeats because it is always hungry.
Hay belly is not usually deadly for a goat, but the animal may become ill if parasites from its food source are the underlying cause since they are constantly being robbed of essential nutrients.
If your goat has a hay belly, pressing on the left abdomen, where the rumen is located, will leave an indentation.
A goat with more severe bloat will have a very tight abdomen and spring back after being pressed because of excess gas in the rumen.
This type of bloat, known as “frothy bloat,” is more severe because gas buildup puts pressure on the heart and lungs, which could lead to death.
Frothy bloat is typically caused when a goat suddenly grazes on rich food like wet spring grass or legumes such as alfalfa or clover.
When a bloated goat cannot swallow, something may be stuck in the animal’s throat, called “choke bloat.”
Frothy bloat and choke bloat are very serious conditions in goats, and they will require veterinary care as soon as possible to prevent death.
Common Signs of Severe Goat Bloat
In addition to a very tight left abdomen, a goat with severe bloat may refuse to eat and appear distressed and uncomfortable.
If the goat cannot release the excess gas, pressure will begin to build around the animal’s heart and lungs, making it difficult to breathe.
When the goat does not get any relief from the pain, it will lie down.
This bloating is very dangerous and fatal to a goat within a few hours without treatment.
Aside from upper abdominal swelling on the left side, a goat with bloat will show other symptoms, including:
- Grinding teeth
- Frequent urination
- Stilted walk
- Lack of appetite
If you notice these symptoms in your goat, seek veterinary treatment immediately.
Treatment for Bloating in Goats
For bloating in goats caused by indigestion from overeating, antacids such as baking soda, magnesium oxide, or milk of magnesia may be used to relieve the excess gas buildup.
Some goat owners supply their herd with free-choice baking soda, which may cause a mineral imbalance if the animal ingests too much.
It is best to reserve baking soda for treating bloat rather than as a preventative measure.
If your goat is bloated and salivating, it will likely suffer from a blockage in the esophagus.
A veterinarian usually attempts to relieve the gas by passing a stomach tube down the goat’s esophagus.
If the blockage prevents the tube from being inserted correctly, the rumen may need to be punctured with a trochar.
Frothy bloat is also treated with a stomach tube insertion followed by a dose of a goat bloat medicine such as poloxalene.
For bloating caused by excess grain consumption, a veterinarian may use an alcohol ethoxylated detergent to break down the gases in the stomach.
Vegetable or mineral oil is sometimes used as an effective treatment until a veterinarian is available, but these oils are slower-acting.
When a mild grain overload causes indigestion, taking the goat off feed and feeding hay exclusively for a few days allows the rumen to recover.
Preventing Bloating in Goats
To prevent bloating in your goats, provide them with a proper diet and a safe environment to ensure they are not eating inappropriate food.
A goat’s diet needs at least 75% long-fiber forage, like hay or pasture.
Feed them small amounts of whole grains for lactating goats requiring grain or concentrates.
To avoid digestive upset, avoid wheat, soft corn, bread, and ground grains.
Related: Can goats eat bread without getting sick?
Foods such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts should also be fed in small amounts as treats.
Be sure to cut fruits and vegetables into small pieces to prevent choke bloat.
Any changes to your goat’s diet need to be done very gradually.
When increasing the quantity of feed in a goat’s diet, you will slowly increase the amount by offering three or more portions a day over four weeks.
Goat kids still need to be given fresh milk during their transition to solid food to ensure they receive the nutrients needed for healthy growth.
Always feed your goats hay before any concentrates or pasture grazing.
Limit grazing in fresh spring pasture for goats who are not yet accustomed to it.
The pasture needs to contain a variety of plants, and if there are legumes like clover and alfalfa, they need to be mixed with grass and weeds which contain tannin.
Your goats also need constant access to fresh, clean water to keep their digestive system moving.