Fever - What is It?
The other day, one of my 4-month-old does said she was sick. Well, she didn't really open her mouth and blurt it out, but I knew. But she didn't come running for grain at chore time like everyone else. She stayed under the hay feeder feeling poorly. The thermometer read 106.4, and the stethoscope showed her rumen motility to be very slow, at less than one contraction every two minutes.
Her 106.4-degree body temperature wasn't exceptionally high, considering that our daytime temperatures have been in the 90- to 95-degree range for over two months. Add humidity to the temperature, and our heat indexes have been in the 105-degree range. Hot weather has caused everyone's temperatures to be about one degree higher than I always considered a normal range (101-102.5 degrees for adults) when we lived in a more moderate part of the country.
When you call your veterinarian about a sick goat, the very first question is, "What is the goat's temperature?" Be ready with that and any other symptoms or information that might be pertinent to the case.
Stress was the reason my kid took ill. Within the previous two weeks we had moved the goats to our new home. Then her mother promptly came into estrus and wouldn't let her nurse. Combine those traumaa with this heat wave, and it is very surprising that her sister and some others didn't come down with a similar ailment, too.
To more accurately define whether a goat's body temperature is moderately elevated or waaay up there, it is a good idea to take the temperature of at least one other goat in a similar age group as a control. While doing that, check the control goat's rumen function. High body temperatures can wreak havoc with the good rumen bacteria the goat needs for digestion. When a feverish goat's rumen motility is less than one contraction per minute, it is a good idea to give a probiotic to help repopulate the rumen bacteria.
Normal body temperature varies from goat to goat. Kid temperatures are about one degree higher than adults. Body temperature fluctuates throughout the day, dropping to its lowest point between midnight and early morning. Then it gradually climbs during the day, peaking late afternoon and early evening. Exercise, excitement, high ambient temperatures and prolonged exposure to the sun can all elevate body temperature. Digestion, estrus and drinking large amounts of water can also alter the normal body temperature a little higher or lower than normal. Overweight animals are far less efficient at maintaining body temperature - they overheat sooner and respond to treatment more slowly. When rumen function is impaired in the normal goat, the body temperature can fall significantly. The rumen is the basic source of heat production, so we need to pay particular attention to it, and maybe even give it a jump-start, to make sure it works sufficiently during illness.
Body temperature is one of the most meaningful symptoms of sudden illness. Everyone should have a rectal thermometer and know how to use it. It is helpful to have a veterinary thermometer with a built-in ring at the end. Tie a brightly colored string through the ring (mine is red and shows up well) and put an alligator clip on the other end of the string to clip to the goat's hair. That way, if the thermometer falls out, it has less chance of falling on the floor and breaking. And it won't disappear inside the goat.
Unless you hold the thermometer the entire time it is inside the goat (3 minutes is enough to get a good basal body temperature), most goats will poop it out with a load of nanny berries. Don't force the thermometer into the rectum - apply a little petroleum jelly first. Read the thermometer when you take it out of the goat and record the temperature and time of day as part of keeping an accurate record of the illness. Disinfect the thermometer by wiping it thoroughly with alcohol.
The body - yours, mine and the goat's - reacts to elevated temperature by slowing down. This slowdown allows the body to divert some energy to drive up body temperature to help kill the invaders. Blame it on the brain. In an effort to increase body temperature to kill invaders, the brain activates the hypothalamus, the body's thermostat which also regulates appetite and sleep. The immune system produces prostaglandin E2 which helps protect the brain from infection. E2 trips chemical switches that also cause drowsiness, and it acts on nerves to produce headache and body aches. Pain relievers block the release of prostaglandins. In the case of people, we feel better, but the infection may linger a little longer.
A sick goat is less likely to eat and drink and can develop digestive problems and become dehydrated. So, it becomes important to relieve pain and bring down the animal's temperature for comfort and to forestall more serious consequences.
The body loses heat in five ways. In radiation, heat is diffused away from the body, into the air, via the skin. Radiation works more efficiently when the ambient temperature is not too close to the animal's own. Convection cooling is achieved by moving air past the body to replace the warmth of the body's radiation with cooler air from a breeze or fan. Evaporation works in combination with convection to achieve more rapid cooling. When animals sweat, air movement makes the body feel cooler. Trouble is, goats don't sweat very much. Breathing also causes evaporative heat loss from lungs - animals pant to accelerate heat loss. Conduction is the movement of heat into a cooler solid mass, like laying on a concrete floor.
A fever can be lowered by controlling the infection with the right antibiotic. Antipyretic (fever lowering) drugs can also be used; these dilate blood vessels near the surface of the skin to increase heat loss by radiation and convection. In this heat, I have periodically wet a goat down with the hose and let natural breezes work for me. A properly placed fan can be useful if there is no breeze.
If I didn't believe so strongly in leaving a sick goat with the herd (depending on its illness, of course), I could have installed the sick kid in an air-conditioned room. I could also have sheared her to accelerate radiative heat loss. If her temperature had been extremely high, I could also have used cold packs (conduction).
Did I forget to say that I called my veterinarian and followed his instructions? Because I did, the kid made a rapid recovery.
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