I work at an immunology lab and part of my week requires that I attend presentations of published research. One presentation I attended last week hit home with me due to it being about Clostridium dificile or as you may be familiar with it as the “CD” in the CDT vaccine. C. dificile is a bacteria that lives in the gut of most mammals. It is from the same group as the bacteria which causes tetanus, hence why you vaccinate for both tetanus (Clostridium tetani) and C. dificile at the same time. Normally C. dificile hangs out in the gut and doesn’t do anything nasty to the animal. But when the animal experiences an upset in normal gut microflora (the good bacteria that lives in the gut/intestines/rumen), C. dificile goes bananas and takes over. C. dificile in small amounts in the gut is not a problem but C. dificile in large amounts can cause major intestinal damage and death.
An upset in gut microflora can be caused by many things including gorging on grain or milk, major and sudden dietary changes, antibiotic treatment, deworming medications, and stress. Whenever the normal balance of gut microflora gets disrupted, the good and benign bacteria can be overpopulated by evil bacteria which cause major health issues. The major health issue that C. dificile causes is it produces an endotoxin which creates holes in the intestinal lining, allowing all kinds of bacteria to enter the goat’s bloodstream. C. dificile infection is very hard to treat because you can eliminate the bacteria from the goat with antibiotics but you can’t fix the endotoxin damage once it has happened. C. dificile can cause death in a very short amount of time. The even worse part is that if the endotoxin damage doesn’t kill the goat, your animal will always be prone to illness and weakness due to the damage to the intestinal lining.
Sitting in this presentation last week, a light bulb went off in my head about some mysterious cases of death in my baby goats. I have read a lot about the importance of preventing parasites in baby goats. Tapeworms and coccidiosis are parasite problems that can cause slow growth, permanent stunting, and death in young goats. Many goat breeders recommend a strict program of preventative treatment with antibiotics and dewormers to try to limit the amount of parasite damage. I have seen some coccidiosis in my baby goats and I have had trouble with my kids not growing well. I have always assumed that parasite prevention was the key to getting ahead of the problem and the key to making big, healthy kids. Last year I had two Saanen kids born on my farm. I dutifully started to preventatively treat them for coccidiosis at 21 days old with Corid powder. I mixed the powder with water at the recommended dose for prevention and gave it to the kids as an oral drench. After three days of treatment with the Corid antibiotic, both of the kids became very weak and stopped eating. I assumed that they were suffering from coccidiosis even with the treatment I was giving them. I gave them more Corid, tried electrolyte and probiotic therapies, injected antibiotics, dewormers, etc. I threw the kitchen sink at them and the doeling died three days after showing the first signs of being sick and the buckling lived but has always been very weak. At the work presentation on C. dificile, I realized that I probably killed the goats with kindness. I was trying to prevent coccidiosis damage with an antibiotic but instead I probably encouraged C. dificile damage by disrupting their gut microflora with that same antibiotic. Any time you give a goat medicine (conventional or herbal), you run the risk of causing a disruption to the gut microflora. I had been blaming coccidiosis all this time for my troubles when, in reality, I should probably be blaming C. dificile.
This year I am going to concentrate on not disrupting the gut microflora of my baby goats. I am not going to use antibiotics for coccidiosis prevention. I am instead going to work on limiting their exposure to parasites by keeping their pen clean and dry and by mounting their food bowls, hay mangers, and water buckets up so they can’t contaminate them with poop or dirt. I do vaccinate my pregnant females with the CDT vaccine every year about 3 weeks before they are due to kid. This is supposed to allow some transfer of immunity to C. dificile from the mom to the kids, but it is not guaranteed due to the tricky nature of C. dificile infection.