Enterotoxemia in Kids and Adults
Maxine Kinne

Clostridium perfringens types C & D are gram-positive bacteria which normally inhabit the ruminant digestive tract in numbers low enough to cause no problems. With the ability to reproduce in as little as eight minutes, it can become a dangerous organism within a very short time when conditions allow it. The problem is not the bacteria themselves, it is the toxins they produce which poison the goat from within.

Enterotoxemia, the disease caused by C. perfringens, is often called Overeating disease because one or more animals have eaten a fair quantity of a feed they are not used to or more than usual of something that is a normal part of their diet. Sudden changes in the diet or feeding practices may set off a chain of events that leads to proliferation of these disease-causing bacteria. Enterotoxemia may also seem to occur spontaneously, although sudden or dramatic changes in weather or other stressors are probably the predisposing factors.

Because we can't tell when it might happen, vaccinating with C. perfringens toxoid, and boosters at appropriate intervals, is done to reduce the chance of the disease. Vaccination causes the goat's immune system to produce antibodies to the toxins. We will never know how often or how well the vaccinations and their resulting antibodies work, but it will be painfully obvious when they don't. Affected kids are often found dead with no signs they had been sick. Adults may develop diarrhea, with dehydration and acidosis as a result, and die within a few days.

Vaccination doesn't always work. Some individuals may not produce enough antibodies, for a variety of reasons, and, according to the literature, antibody levels in goats seem to decline post-vaccination much sooner than they do in sheep. Follow the label directions for vaccine timing and dosage rate. Several veterinarians I have queried have suggested a different dose than is listed on the label, and it has been successful for me. Then again, I have a very strict feeding regime and do not have sudden feed changes or grain engorgement accidents.

Treatment is not often very successful, but it must be aggressive. Type C & D antitoxin is given every few hours, along with IV fluid therapy and pain medication. Antibiotics are given to control the number of toxin-producing bacteria. Through one of the computer discussion lists I subscribe to, I have learned that few veterinarians seem to keep C & D antitoxin on hand. While I never have either, it is available for purchase and you might want to have some on hand.


Related Reading

Enterotoxemia Vaccinations
Type D Entertoxemia - Merck Vet Manual
Types B & C Enterotoxemia - Merck Vet Manual


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