Boxwood Avenue

Copper Toxicity in Goats

ranch lifeChloe | Boxwood Ave.2 Comments

Copper is a mineral necessary for healthy bone growth, proper nervous system function, and hair pigmentation. However, too much copper can result in copper toxicity. It is currently unknown how much copper goats need, and the proper amount varies from goat to goat. 

Copper poisoning (toxicity) in goats |

Let's start this off with: don't ever let your goats eat chicken feed!!!!!!! Ever!!! In fact, don't let them eat any supplements/feed meant for other animals. The minerals and vitamins that chickens (and pigs especially) need, is toxic to sheep and goats.

It's not that I let my goats eat chicken feed, but as you probably know, goats have a way of finding (and eating) things not meant for them. 

This all started when I went to tuck my goats into bed. I noticed dark red stains on the shavings. I had been holding Elderberry for about 30 minutes, and saw that the red "blood" stains were coming from where Buckwheat had urinated. I didn't panic, but I was very concerned. 

It was late at night, but I still decided to do some googling: "red urine from wether goat" and "my goat is peeing red". Most of the information lead me to believe that Buckwheat, being a wether, probably was suffering from a kidney stone. It seemed as if he would be okay, but I still planned on taking him to the vet. 

The next morning, I called the vet and brought BW in at their first availability. I managed to contact my friend Katie who is a tech that works alongside one of the vets. She so kindly showed the Dr. a few photos - he thought Buckwheat might have Prostatitis (inflamed prostate) and would need a salt supplement and Penicillin. He said the salt would make Buckwheat drink more water which would help flush out and reduce crystals, while the antibiotic would help with the bloody urine. {Good information to know if your goat ever does have Prostatitis.}

Copper toxicity in goats |

I decided to take BW into the vet anyways. I dropped him off for blood tests and ran to get coffee. When I got back, the vet came into the waiting room and asked me if I gave the boys any supplements? Specifically, copper. I replied with, "No, but I can if I need to? Should I be?" His answer, "NO NO NO - we think Buckwheat is having internal organ failure from copper poisoning." 

At which point I burst into tears. I heard organ failure, and that was it for me. He invited me into the room where Buckwheat was waiting. I'm almost too embarrassed to tell you that I was wailing on the ground. Saying "you don't understand, I'll do ANYTHING. He is my entire life!" 

This was the first time I had ever met this vet, he is about my age, and I am sure he thinks I am absolutely 100% nuts. But he seemed to understand that BW wasn't just some ol' goat, he was my precious treasure. He suggested that I take him to UC Davis where they could perform more tests, but honestly, the stress of driving 5 hours probably would have done BW more harm than good, then tack on the stress of tests, I doubt BW would have survived. {Especially knowing that copper poisoning is a stress related disease.}

Copper toxicity in goats |
Copper toxicity in goats |

After the initial tests, they were able to determine that there was in fact zero blood in BW's urine. The urine was a deep orange color and smelled sweet, this lead them to believe that he was suffering from copper toxicity. The two doctors that were at the clinic that day both agreed that the 'red urine' was a symptom showing that Buckwheat was in haemolytic crisis.

While copper is a necessary metal for proper organ functions in goats, an overdose of copper is toxic. This is true for humans as well. Copper deficiency is a real problem for some, especially pregnant does, and can result in death; on the flip side, copper toxicity is when there is too much copper in the diet. As with everything in life, balance is key. 

The older vet said he had experienced this one time before with a heard of sheep - which are more at risk than goats are (they can even get copper poisoning from water taken through copper pipes). He said that the sheep died left and right regardless of treatment, but that goats are much more resilient than sheep. At this time I decided it was okay to panic, they didn't seem very hopeful for Buckwheat, and also asked if I could bring Elderberry in for tests since both of them had gotten into the chicken feed.

Throughout all of this, I discovered that copper toxicity is a result of too much copper in the diet, and none of us could believe that the boys had gotten that much copper, enough to cause poisoning, from chicken feed. They have gotten into the coop multiple times, and while I get them out ASAP, they may have ingested more than I know. Copper is a mineral found in the soil and hay, and most of the time there is enough copper in the diet to suffice; however, most goat caretakers have experienced copper & mineral deficiency, and copper intoxication is less heard of. Copper poisoning causes liver necrosis and results in haemolysis - when the blood turns copper colored, it's considered haemolytic crisis. DMV360 states:

"Copper is a strong oxidizing agent. It binds to proteins in the liver cells and is stored in lysosomes within hepatocytes. As long as the copper remains stored in lysosomes it does not cause tissue damage. Copper can, however, be spontaneously released or released at times of stress, including shearing, weather extremes or transport. Chronic copper poisoning is, therefore, often described as a stress-related disease."

The Doc and team at the vet clinic were all amazing. I can't tell you how grateful I am for their help throughout all of this. They called me to keep me updated, and spent time researching different drugs to treat copper poisoning. The older vet suggested that we simply ride it out, from his experience with the sheep, he said that treatment wasn't very successful. Many studies sited that D-penicillamine, a heavy metal chelator that increases copper excretion via urine, was the best treatment option for copper toxicity. We searched high and low for the drug, and were never able to locate it. 

So, we decided to wait until Buckwheat's copper test results came back to order any other drugs, as we didn't want to treat without diagnosis. We ended up injecting both Buckwheat and Elderberry with Vitamin C, and 24 hours following injection Buckwheat's urine was back to a normal color. 

While I can't be certain that the Vitamin C was the cure, it's an easy and accessible treatment that can't do harm. We will continue to keep a bottle on hand and inject during stressful times to help keep chronic poisoning at bay. A few days following the Vitamin C injections, we got the test results back - they showed that Buckwheat was at the highest level of normal before going into the danger zone...although the Doc said that blood tests aren't always the most accurate and liver biopsies are preferred. 

Buckwheat lost a great deal of weight and almost all of his hair, but he continued to eat and drink the entire time he was sick (had red colored urine). I considered this to be a positive sign and remained hopeful - and lucky for us, he pulled through. I couldn't be more happy that my sweet boy is okay. I truly thought he wasn't going to make it, and was so nervous that I would walk out to find him gone. To know that he is still alive and well is the best gift. 

I want to say thank you to everyone who gave me support. I know that a stranger might think I am completely overreacting and dramatic, but those boys bring me soooo much joy - I think anyone with pets can relate. I am sharing this story in hopes that it might help or prevent another goat from getting copper poisoning.



deficiency & toxicity | overview of copper poisoning | toxicity in goats & sheep 

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