Rumen Motility & Bloat Diagnosis
Maxine Kinne

Rumen motility is a very important physiological function and should always be evaluated during illness. Learn to time rumen contractions and use this skill as a diagnostic tool when you have a goat that seems ill. Practice on animals that aren't sick. 

A healthy goat has rumen contractions (motility) from 1-4 times per minute. Motility frequency often depends on when the goat last ate a mass of forage or hay. If the meal was recent, motility will be faster because the rumen is working at its peak to mix its contents. If the last food was a while ago, contractions will be fewer.

Place your fingertips on the goat's left side, halfway between the ribs and hips, and about 1/4 of the way down from the top line. This soft, hollow area high on either side below the loin is called the paralumbar fossa, and the literal translation is "the depression next to the lumbar vertebrae". You should feel a hard mass. This is the rumen contents. Leave your fingers pressed against it until you feel the rolling motion of a rumen contraction. Count the seconds (use a watch) until you feel the next one. With a stethoscope pressed firmly against the rumen, you can also hear contractions and the gurgling noises of rumen gas.

You may have noticed that when you look at a goat from the front or the rear that its right side bulges upward slightly more than the left side. That is because the intestines are under the rumen on the right side and lift it a little. The goat's tummy looks more full after eating, and it can be hard to tell whether or not it is bloated.


There are several ways differentiate a bloated rumen from one that is simply full of food. Bloat is painful, and the animal feels miserable. It is depressed and won't eat or chew its cud. It won't even belch, because it can't. So, a burping goat is not bloated. (Eructation is another word for burping.)

Stand back a little and you can see the belch rise through the front of the neck and the throat. As it burps, the goat moves its head almost imperceptibly forward and up. You can spot this easily once you learn to look for it. Another easy way to tell is to place the palm of your hand gently on the front of the neck to feel the eructations rise through the esophagus.

The normal rumen contains a certain amount of methane gas. In bloat, there is too much gas built up and rumen motility slows down or stops. It is difficult to tell whether a bloat is due to free gas, frothy gas or an obstruction. Frothy bloat is the most common type. When you palpate a bloated rumen, it just feels very firm and tense.

Learn to judge the amount of gas with about the same technique as feeling for motility. Rest your fingers gently on the skin at the paralumbar fossa, jab in slightly several times, then let your fingers return to the point of just touching the skin. In a normal goat, you should be able to palpate an air space of about 1/2" between the skin and the rumen contents. Practice this until you are a good judge of how much gas lies between the rumen wall and the food inside. With bloat, the goat's side will be very tense. You will not be able to jab lightly and feel the food mass because of the large quantity of gas.

When the rumen is not functioning well, it is important to diagnose the cause and correct it. Probiotics are a significant part of treating the rumen. Probiotics are products that contain bacteria, and possibly protozoa - normal inhabitants of the healthy rumen. In the sick goat, these helpful rumen bugs can die off very quickly and need to be replaced. That is the purpose of a probiotic. I prefer Probios® paste, but other good products are available. For frothy bloat, I keep Therabloat® liquid concentrate. Hopefully, you won't have occasion to use either product, but keep them on hand anyway. You will need it at the most inopportune time!

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