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Urinary Stones in Goats

Urinary stones can be a problem in male goats. This is because the urethra, the tube that empties the bladder, is shaped like an S in males (See Figure 1) and stones can easily get stuck in these S bends and cause blockage. Does get urinary stones too, but blockages rarely occur.  It is important to note that presence of urinary stones is a “herd problem” when all are fed the same diet. As such you should strive to take a holistic approach in prevention and treatment.

Why Stones Form
Diets excessive in phosphorus and/or calcium cause most urinary stones. The most common sources of phosphorus/calcium imbalances are “homemade” grain mixtures (taking a “recipe” from your neighbor or someone off of the internet to the local feed mill), exclusive use of commodity feeds (C.O.B., distillers’ grains, soybean meal, etc.), alfalfa and hard water (remember that water makes up at least half of the diet).  An ideal calcium-to-phosphorus ratio in a goat’s diet is 2:1 to 2.5:1; however goats can tolerate as much as 5:1.

Prevention
The key to prevention is a properly balanced diet. Those who choose to feed alfalfa, commodities, or homemade feed mixtures should “balance” the ration making sure that the calcium to phosphorus ratio is in the safe range. If you do not know how to do this yourself, you should steer clear of these feedstuffs. The best bet for novice goat owners would be to use commercial feeds and supplements from reputable feed companies, as these will be properly balanced by a trained nutritionist. Additionally they will have nutritionists on staff to advise you on how to feed their products. If you have hard water, you can have the water tested and then make appropriate adjustments in the ration, or you can consider providing softened water for drinking.

Treatment
If you suspect urinary stones, contact a veterinarian as soon as possible to avoid costly complications. If urination is totally blocked, the prognosis is not good, even with surgery. Many goat producers use a feed additive (ammonium chloride or potassium chloride) to help acidify the urine. These additives make the crystallized stones more soluble so that the goat may be more likely to pass the stones. This treatment is preferable for early intervention of a case of urinary stones (while the goat is still urinating readily). However, these additives will do nothing to remedy the underlying mineral imbalance that caused stones in the first place. Be sure to make dietary adjustments to correct imbalances to properly “treat” urinary stones for the long run.

Figure 1.  A diagram of the physiology of a male goat.