Selenium Deficiency in Goats. What is selenium deficiency in goats? How is selenium deficiency treated?
Contrary to popular opinion, goats really cannot live on shrubs, weeds, and tin cans. If you’ve heard the phrase ‘goats eat everything’… well, they don’t. Goats are naturally curious and explore the world with their mouths. They also tend to eat the brushy, weedy plants that other livestock avoid. Both of these characteristics have led to the misconception that goats will eat everything.
Without a proper diet, they can fall ill. Goats are generally happy, playful, and exceedingly sturdy little animals. At times, however, keeping them healthy can be a challenge. Their fragility is most evident when one of them has fallen ill and has to be brought back up to its happy, healthy, smiling self!
Your goats’ nutrition should always be a concern. Does are most susceptible to illness when pregnant, after delivering, and while lactating. Goat kids are also vulnerable to selenium (Se) deficiency, and it can stunt their growth and cause other health issues.
What is selenium deficiency?
Selenium is a mineral that is found in the soil. It’s is necessary for the proper growth and development of muscle tissue, nerve tissue, and brain matter.
A selenium deficiency is a fancy term used to describe a lack of adequate selenium in the diet. Selenium deficiency can result in poor growth rates and reproductive rates.
Selenium deficiency in goats may cause weak births or dead babies. The deficiency may also result in the placenta failing to release from the uterus, referred to as retained placenta, which is an uncommon occurrence in goats but can occur if selenium is deficient in their diet.
What are the symptoms of selenium deficiency in goats?
Selenium is important in reproductive, brain, muscle and, thyroid health in goats. The signs of a selenium deficiency can vary from goat to goat. Most often, you’ll notice slight symptoms like slow growth rate, weak kids, poor reproductive rates, and overall unthriftiness.
Here are the most common signs of selenium deficiency in goats:
- Poor growth rate
- Kids that are unable to stand without aid
- Kids that are unable to suckle properly
- Poor reproductive rates
- Retained placenta, which can potentially lead to other health problems
- Depressed immune systems
It can be hard to notice these signs of selenium deficiency, especially if all of your goats are showing the same signs. Goats are notorious for hiding symptoms that something is wrong.
Selenium deficiency in goats is no different. The signs may be slight, so you’ll really have to keep an eye on your goats. One of the most common problems that selenium deficiency causes is weak goat kids.
This is commonly called white muscle disease, or WMD for short.
What does selenium do in the goat’s body?
You might ask why too little of one mineral is such a big deal?
A proper level of selenium, along with adequate levels of vitamin E, is essential for:
- Reproductive health
- The production of DNA
- The function of the thyroid gland
- Protects the body from infection
- Healthy brain development
- It helps the immune system function properly.
For more information about how selenium deficiency affects goats, watch the presentation below:
Selenium Deficiency in Goat Kids: AKA White Muscle Disease
Caused by a severe selenium deficiency, along with a possible shortage of Vitamin E, white muscle disease is a degenerative muscle disease. It is found in large mammals, including goats, sheep, and humans whose diets have a shortage of this mineral. Yes, you can also suffer from a lack of selenium.
There are two types of WMD, and all breeds of goats are susceptible. One type is congenital, which means they have had it since birth, and affects the heart muscle.
The other is a delayed form that can affect either cardiac or skeletal muscles. Both forms display similar symptoms, and the disease can be deadly to adults and goat kids if not corrected promptly.
Goat kids that have white muscle disease due to selenium deficiency will have these signs:
- stiffness, weakness and trembling
- stiff back legs
- being too weak to nurse
- may cough up milk
- develop pneumonia (due to weakened lungs)
- be too weak to stand
If you suspect selenium deficiency or white muscle disease in your goat kids, don’t wait to treat it. Stiff, weak legs are not normal and are a key sign that your goat needs help. Don’t be fooled into thinking that they need time after birth to get used to their legs. Go ahead and treat them before the disease progresses.
The signs of selenium deficiency in goats are harder to detect in adults than kids.
Signs of Selenium Deficiency in Adult Goats
Selenium deficiency may not show itself in adult goats until a stressor occurs. Signs of the deficiency include stillbirths, poor reproduction rates, dead or weakened kids, and retained placentas that can lead to other health issues if not attended to on time.
In short, a selenium deficiency can be devastating to your older, younger, newborn, and unborn goats.
Diagnosing Selenium Deficiency in Goats
Due to early births when selenium deficiency is present, many kids will not make it. Difficulty standing unaided due to poor muscle structure can lead to poor growth rates and suppress their immune systems, making them more susceptible to other illnesses and disorders. These factors could prevent them from reaching maturity.
White Muscle Disease (WMD), a sickness of young goat kids, is another ailment caused by a lack of selenium in your goat’s diet.
One of the easiest ways to check for selenium deficiency is to have your soil tested. Goats will get many of their minerals from the soil, so testing your soil will let you know if there is selenium present in the soil.
Much of the U.S. has low selenium levels that can lead to selenium deficiency in your goats.
Causes of Selenium Deficiency in Goats
Selenium is found in soil, food, and foraged plants, and not every state has a sufficient amount of selenium in its soil.
When the soil does not have an adequate amount of minerals, neither do the plants. If this is your situation, you will need supplements to ensure that they have proper levels of essential nutrients. Managing your goat’s diets will help with the proper development of their bodies and brains.
If you don’t have adequate selenium in your soil, you’ll need to supplement your goat’s diet with a mineral blend.
How often do you give goats selenium?
Your goats need selenium in their daily diet, but like all nutrients, too much of a good thing can be harmful. Controlled by law due to its toxicity, the daily consumption of selenium is set at a low rate to compensate for selenium levels in native soils.
The recommended amount of selenium is 0.2 ppm, while the level of toxicity (too much selenium), is 3 ppm.
Too much selenium can cause diarrhea, salivation, liver and heart problems, as well as other symptoms. The ideal amount of selenium is between 0.10 to 0.30 ppm. You can get injectable selenium, but it is a poor substitute for a proper diet.
How do you give a goat selenium?
The best way for your goats to get selenium is in their regular diet. However, this isn’t always possible, and for those of you who have goats that range far afield, it’s also not practical. For one of your does, kids, or adults that need special attention, giving them a supplement until their health improves may be necessary.
A goat mineral blend is the best way to make sure that your goats are getting all of the minerals that they need on a daily, as-needed basis, including selenium. I want to give a word of caution here. Not all mineral blends are created equally.
Goats have unique dietary needs. The mineral amounts that goats need are much different than those needed by sheep, cattle, horses, or pigs. Do not give your goats a ‘livestock’ mineral blend. The mineral amounts won’t be right and you’ll end up giving them all sorts of toxicities and deficiencies.
My favorite goat mineral blend to give is the Manna Pro Goat Mineral Blend. This mineral blend is designed specifically for goats, not other livestock.
Providing loose minerals will help prevent deficiency problems in goats where the soil lacks enough selenium.
If your soils are completely lacking selenium, it’s a good idea to give oral selenium to your goats a few times per year. You can do this with an oral paste Selenium/Vitamine E gel.
Follow the dosage directions on the tube to make sure that your goats are getting the right amount of selenium. In areas where the soil is selenium-deficient, give the selenium/vitamin E gel every three months.
You can also give an extra dose to pregnant does at the beginning of pregnancy to help deliver healthy kids and ward off potential problems.
How long does it take a goat to recover from selenium deficiency?
There is not a definitive answer to this question, especially if your goat has suffered a severe case where the deficiency has brought on WMD.
You could have a goat that needs special attention for the remainder of its life in that event. This is especially true if the goat has suffered from heart, muscle, or skeletal damage due to mineral deficiency.
For mild cases of selenium deficiency, a dietary change, with attention to selenium and vitamin E levels, your goat should be back to its playful self in a few days to a week. Again, this depends on the severity of the deficiency.
Natural Sources of Selenium for Goats
There are many natural sources of selenium, but your goats may not have natural, ready access to these sources. Since pregnant does and goat kids are the most susceptible to selenium deficiency, it is they who need the most attention regarding their dietary needs.
Natural sources of selenium include:
- Alfalfa Hay
- Raw Pumpkin Seeds
- Red Raspberry Seeds
Preventing Selenium Deficiency
The best way to prevent selenium deficiency is to know it can be a problem and that diet can keep it from occurring.
Remember, though, that too much of a good thing can be harmful and that selenium can be toxic at too large of a dose. Knowing the selenium content of your local soil and forage can help you determine if you need to add it to your goats’ diets.
Your county’s Agricultural Department extension office should be able to answer that question for you.
Treating Selenium Deficiency: How do you fix selenium deficiency in goats?
A well-balanced diet is the best way to keep your goats’ selenium levels where they need to be for normal nutritional maintenance.
In the event of an ill doe or kid, however, injectable selenium is the quickest way to get your ill animals back on their feet. It can be hard to find injectable selenium, so oral selenium pastes are the next best option.
Keeping your Goats Healthy
My two goats, both does, were purchased not out of serious consideration but out of fear that they would not make it through the winter if they did not come home with me. Victims of owners who thought that goats could live on stems, seeds, and the pickings in between had led to both of them being underfed, malnourished, and I wondered a few times if they would ever be as healthy as they were happy.
Although neither of them exhibited WMD, they did have symptoms of malnourishment. After months of attention, a good diet, plenty of peanut hay, alfalfa, probiotics, and other supplements, I am glad to say that they are both happy, healthy, and due to give me a couple of babies this summer! Whether you raise milk goats, meat goats, or pet goats, their diet and habitat are significant factors in their health, happiness, and yours.