Displaced Abomasum in the Goat

Carol Raczykowski
Reviewed by Dr. William Holleman

(Reprinted from Pygmy Goat WORLD magazine with permission)

Adult Ruminant Stomach

The goat is a ruminant with a four-chambered stomach. Until it begins to eat roughage, the newborn kid is single-stomached, much like us. In a suckling kid a valve-like band of muscle tissue in the esophagus closes to divert milk into the abomasum. This diversion is triggered by the sucking reflex when the kid stretches its neck to nurse. A pan fed kid does not drink from the correct position to close the esophageal groove, and milk flows into its rumen, the first chamber of the stomach, where it does not belong. As a result, the kid may get diarrhea or colic. It will not get the benefit of the milk since it cannot be properly digested. Eating roughage, the esophageal groove doesn't activate - solid food goes directly into the rumen. By two months of age a kid can eat enough solid food so it is no longer dependent on the mother.

Each chamber of the ruminant stomach has its own purpose and function. The large first chamber is the rumen. Located mainly on the goat's left side, the rumen is a 1-2 gallon capacity devoted to fermentation. The rumen has no digestive enzymes but is populated by bacteria and protozoans that break down food into a digestible form through fermentation. Soft masses of partly digested food, called cud, are regurgitated up from the rumen into the mouth for additioanl chewing, perhaps many times. The food is ground into smaller and smaller pieces to allow it to be more completely utilized. Cud-chewing action is called rumination. Logically, animals that ruminate are called ruminants.

The second chamber is the reticulum. It is separated from the rumen by a partial wall. The reticulum acts as a pump and aids in moving food back to the mouth for chewing or to the omasum for further digestion. It also acts catches heavy particles in the feed. If a goat swallows a bolt, this is where it will end up.

When the reticulum has done its job, the food passes on to the omasum. The omasum further breaks down the food, aided by the pleat-like folds of tissue in the omasum lining. Excess fluid is removed from the food in the omasum, then the  food enters the abomasum.

The abomasum, the second largest part of the digestive system, is the true digestive stomach. It functions much like the stomach of a human. It secretes digestive juices (from 2 qts to several gallons per day) that break down proteins into simple substances that can be digested and absorbed by the goat. The abomasum plays an important role in a goat's digestive system.

During last part of gestation some organs shift, including the stomachs. The uterus expands under the rumen, and the rumen is forced upward to some degree. As kids are delivered the uterus shrinks dramatically in size. During that process, the abomasum may slip to the left and become pinned under the weight of the rumen. This causes the opening of the abomasum, the pylorus, to be pinched off, and the doe begins experiencing metabolic problems.

When the abomasum is pinched off, the entire digestive tract is disrupted. Little or no food can move through the animal, and the amount of feces she produces may decrease dramatically. The abomasum becomes inflamed and sometimes infected, and the doe may experience gastric perforations (stomach tears), ulcers, dehydration, toxemia and death. Black-colored or bloody diarrhea is caused by hemorrhage.

Ketosis after kidding may be a symptom of a displaced abomasum. The doe will not eat and will develop ketone breath. Her milk will also have that distinct odor. One simple way to determine the ketone level in your goat is to use a human ketone test strip like those used by diabetics. You can purchase these at a pharmacy. Both urine and milk will test a strong positive to the presence of ketones.

A displaced abomasum is a slowly progressive problem that takes places usually within a week of kidding. If your doe is acting odd, look for the above symptoms. If she has a displaced abomasum, she will eventually become dehydrated, with sunken eyes. If you can catch the problem before this stage, she has a much better chance of survival. The first symptoms are a doe off feed with a ketone odor to her breath. You will also notice that her right side appears flat and the left side normal. A doe that tests positive for ketosis and has not responded to treatment is a definite candidate for a displaced abomasum.

If you have not dealt with a displaced abomasum before, contact your veterinarian. He or she may confirm diagnosis by listening for the distinctive tinkling sound of the abomasum working on the right side. If there is no audible sound on the right, the vet will listen for it high and low on the left side. This helps determine the location of the abomasum.

This problem is not an uncommon occurrence in dairy goats or cows. The quickly evacuated uterus leaves extra room for the abomasum to slip under the rumen and become trapped. Displaced abomasum is more common in does that have carried three or more fetuses, because there is more opportunity for shifting organs once the uterus is empty.

When caught early, over 80% of these cases can be treated with exterior manipulation. The goal is to get the abomasum back to the right side. This can be done by sedating the goat and rolling her over on her back so that the rumen falls away from the body wall to free the abomasum. Rock the doe back and forth, and bring her to a quick stop on her right side. When the abomasum pops into position on the right side, you will usually hear a gurgling sound. Gradually ease the doe back to full feed and treat her for ketosis. She should be as good as new in one week.

If this method does not work, your veterinarian can make a conservative incision on the right flank, correct the position of the abomasum and tack it in place. This minor surgery carries the potential dangers of any surgery - shock, infection, and drug overdose. These risks are much more serious than the minimal risk involved with rolling manipulation. When the doe is rocked on her back there is the risk of drowning if the doe has a full stomach and regurgitates. This is more unlikely if the doe has been off feed.

The abomasum may also be displaced after a doe has rolled over or experienced severe trauma, but these cases are rare. The great majority of cases will occur after kidding. If if the owner watches for symptoms for a week or two after kidding, the problem can be treated with great success.


Related Reading

Left or Right Displaced Abomasum
Displaced Abomasum in the Cow - great images

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