Bloat in Goats

Carol Raczykowski
Reviewed by Dr. William Holleman

(Reprinted from Pygmy Goat WORLD magazine with permission)

It is easier to prevent some problems than having to learn by experience. Sometimes it is better to know how to deal with a problem before it happens, and that is certainly true of bloat. Many people have heard about it but do not know how to effectively deal with it. Several types of bloat affect goats, and some of the old remedies are not very effective.

Gas is a natural by-product of digestive fermentation in the rumen, and it is expelled continuously as the goat belches. Bloat occurs when gas is trapped in the rumen. It is a life-threatening condition.

Frothy Bloat

Frothy bloat is usually caused by overeating lush, damp feeds such as clover, alfalfa or legume pastures. Green feed that has grown warm in the stack can also create problems. Foam forms in the rumen with tiny bubbles that are impossible for a goat to belch up. Foam is more dangerous than dry bloat. The rumen expands with foam and the goat can die pretty quickly from respiratory or circulatory failure due to excessive pressure on the diaphragm.

Dry or Free Gas Bloat

Dry bloat is usually caused by indigestion from any underlying cause or eating too much grain. In this type of bloat, gas forms in pockets and is trapped in the upper portions of the rumen. When more and more gas is formed and the animal is unable to belch, it becomes bloated.


Bloat can also occur if something lodges in the throat or esophagus and blocks the means of belching. Sometimes it is possible for a goat to swallow something large enough to block the inside end of the esophagus.


In any type of bloat, the goatís left flank will bulge, and it sounds like a kettle drum if tapped. Symptoms of bloat include signs of pain, such as grinding teeth, depression, or striking out with their legs. In an advanced case, the goat may already be down due to respiratory failure or other complications.

If the animal is not in an emergency state, the first step in treatment is to immediately remove the goat from the feed, if that was the cause. Do not give water to a goat who has ingested large quantities of grain, because water will add to the fermentation rate and cause the grain to expand. Wait maybe 12 hours before you give water - after the goat has eaten roughage to help stimulate the rumen.


Stomach tubing is an emergency procedure and a good option for treating dry bloat. Oral bloat medications are also a good treatment option.

Tubing will not help with frothy bloat, as it does not eliminate froth that initially caused the problem. To treat frothy bloat, you need to introduce a product to break down the froth into a solid pocket of gas that the goat can belch out. The old remedy of drenching with oils does not rid the stomach of its contents or help dissipate the gas very well. Oil simply coats things so that pretty soon you just have layers of stuff - grain, water, oil and gas.

If you have a goat full of grain, I suggest giving Milk of Magnesia. This helps stimulate the gut and lower the pH balance of the rumen be more alkaline. DiGel or powdered Tide laundry detergent (one tablespoon of Tide powder mixed with maybe 60 cc of water) will eliminate the froth and allow the goat to belch. Then put the goat on dry, coarse hay to stimulate the rumen to contract. After giving the medication it helps to firmly massage the rumen to help mix the treatment with the rumen contents. Walking the goat may also aid in mixing the medication. After walking for a while, stand the goat "uphill," by elevating its front end to allow the expulsion of gas through belching.

Some veterinarians keep simethecone preparations that are very effective in dissipating froth but Milk of Magnesia, DiGel or powdered Tide work just fine. A product called Therabloat can be given orally or directly through injection into the rumen and is very effective in dissipating frothy bloat (3 cc mixed with about 30 cc water and shake well). A handful of bicarbonate of soda can also help disperse the gas.

How To Stomach Tube

When tubing your goat (illustrations B & C), be sure to use a stomach tube or other appropriate equipment. A 1/4-inch to 3/8-inch diameter and 3-foot to 4-foot long piece of plastic hose rounded off at the end will work. Do not use a garden hose - it is too large and can split the esophagus and kill your goat.

The tube must be long enough to reach from the mouth to the distended flank, with some room to spare. A speculum is also needed so the goat will not bite and sever the tube. A piece of wood with a hole in it, a piece of 1" hard plastic pipe, or a "sheep harp" (a special mouth gag for sheep and goats) can be used. It helps to have two people for restraint and to keep the speculum in the mouth. Measure the length between the mouth and the middle of the abdomen and use a permanent marker to mark how far to put the tube in. 

Insert and hold the speculum in the mouth so that the goat can't chew the tube or your fingers. Pass the stomach tube through the speculum and gently pass it into the back of the throat. The animal will usually swallow it voluntarily. Now gently push the tube down the esophagus, while blowing on your end to inflate the esophagus and make the tube passage easier. If you have a foreign body lodged, the tube will usually push it into the rumen. Most foreign bodies lodge at the base of the neck, so you will have to push it from there all the way back to the stomach.

When you reach the stomach opening, resistance on the tube is reduced and, if you're lucky, a large volume of gas will rush out. If not, don't despair, simply move the tube back and forth and around until you find the gas pocket. Once the deflation process is done, pinch the tube and remove it in one smooth, complete motion.

If these measures fail and the goat is in an emergency state (very labored breathing or down from the internal pressure), a well placed puncture into the rumen through the highest part of the inflated flank is necessary. A 1 1/2-inch 16-gauge needle works very well. The hole can leak fluids into the peritoneum and cause peritonitis. A pocketknife can be used in an extreme emergency, but the wound will need immediate surgical repair.

To "stick" a goat, do it at the highest point of the bloat on the left side, midway between the last rib and the hip). Jab the 16-gauge needle all the way in and hold it there while the gas escapes. (See illustration D.) This procedure is best done by a veterinarian but in emergency cases, time is important. The animal has only minutes to live once it goes down!

Preventing Bloat

Feed dry hay before letting goats out on high-moisture grass or clover. Even then, watch for signs of bloat. Don't let your goats eat too much young green fodder or clover in a short period of time. If you want your goats to graze on young, wet pasture, fill them up with dry hay first and introduce the new pasture slowly for short periods

Don't treat your goats to large amounts of succulent feeds (green corn stalks, etc.) They arenít used to. Stored green feed such as alfalfa should not be allowed to get warm.

Indigestion, instead of bloat, can come from eating too much grain or greens. The goat may become colicky and depressed, stamping its hind feet, grunting, and bitingat or nosing its sides. Some lie down and act generally sick. Diarrhea usually follows. In most of these cases, 1/4 cup of Pepto Bismol will clear up the problem.

Kids may bloat if milk curd gets into the rumen, usually as a result of improper colostrum or milk tubing. The curd ferments and the stomach fills with gas. Treatment for kids is 1 or 2 teaspoons of Pepto Bismol.

Prevention is the best medicine for bloat. Keep a watchful eye on your goats if they are at risk, and be prepared to deal with the symptoms.

Related Reading

Bloat, by Doc Fleming
Bloat @ Lavender Fleece

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