Urinary Calculi in sheep and goats

Proper feeding can reduce the risk of urinary calculi in goats.

Urinary Calculi, a urinary-tract condition in goats and sheep, prevents both urination and breeding in males. The twists and turns of the male urethra make passing solid particles difficult at best and impossible at worst. Urinary Calculi is a disease that can and does kill animals quickly.

Urinary Calculi is almost always the result of improper feeding by the producer. Proper calcium to phosphorus ratio in feed, hay and minerals is critical; this ratio should be 2 1/2 to 1. Although the disease is called Urinary Calculi, the real culprit is phosphorus—specifically too much phosphorus in relation to the amount of calcium in the diet. Feeding too much concentrated feed and/or feeding concentrates with an improper calcium-to-phosphorus ratio is a major cause of Urinary Calculi. Overfeeding or improper feeding of concentrates causes solid particles to develop in the urine; these solid particles block the flow of urine out of the goat’s body, causing great pain, discomfort and oftentimes death.

Besides concentrates, there are other factors affecting the calcium-to-phosphorus ratio in the goat’s diet. If the minerals being fed have the proper calcium-to-phosphorus ratio and the goats are not being fed a diet heavy in concentrates, then the producer should have both water and hay tested for mineral content.

Goats used for show purposes are prone to Urinary Calculi because their owners tend to over-feed concentrates. Young wethers (castrated males) are especially susceptible to Urinary Calculi. Castration stops both testosterone production and the growth of the urethra. Solid particles cannot pass through a urethra that has not been given the opportunity to grow to its normal diameter. The chance of contracting Urinary Calculi in male show animals can be reduced by delaying castration as long as possible—giving the diameter of the urethra time to grow. The addition of hay or some other type of long fiber to the animal’s diet is absolutely critical to help avoid Urinary Calculi. This is a big problem with some show-animal producers because they tend to take animals off long fiber and push concentrates.

Urinary Calculi requires immediate medical attention. This condition will not correct itself and if left untreated, the animal will die. Symptoms of Urinary Calculi include tail twitching in males, restlessness, anxiety and a “hunched-up” body posture as the animal strains to urinate. Sometimes the producers misdiagnose the problem as constipation or bloat because of animal’s behavior and body stance.

Do not force an animal with Urinary Calculi to drink lots of water; if fluids can’t leave the body because the exit is blocked, the only alternative is for the bladder to burst. A burst bladder cannot be fixed and is fatal.

The key to avoiding Urinary Calculi is feeding the animal a proper diet. Producers experiencing Urinary Calculi in their animals must change their feeding regimens. Carefully read feed labels for proper calcium-to-phosphorus ratios (2 1/2:1). Some prepared goat and sheep feeds contain ammonium chloride in the formulation, but this is no guarantee that Urinary Calculi will be avoided. Most importantly, offer lots of free-choice forage/browse and good-quality grass hay and reduce the amount of concentrates being fed.

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