Diagnosing illness in the goat is like putting the pieces of a puzzle together. It can be a challenge sometimes but I separate the basic illnesses into a couple categories:
1) Rumen ailments
If you are on your game, you can quickly rule out one or two of the above. For example, does the goat have a fever? If yes, then you can most likely rule out injury or parasitism.
Is the doe off feed, sudden drop in milk, subnormal temp, no rumen action, at the beginning of a lactation? Well, you’re probably dealing with a metabolic problem like hypocalcemia.
How about her eyes? Neurological problems like listeria, polio, and meningeal worm (that, yes, is a parasite but I group it with neurological) are most likely going to show up as some sort of sign of being “off” whether it be with eyes, head or limbs.
Do you have a case of scours? Quite frankly, in my experience, adult goats with even the highest level of parasites rarely if ever scour from the load they carry. So for these adults, scours are usually a symptom of over eating something like grain, a bad plant, or some sort of rumen problem. I will note that intermittent scouring, meaning scouring in the adult that comes and goes quickly COULD be a parasite problem, but it could also be a mineral issue, see copper…
Now, kids, on the other hand, are a major issue when it comes to scouring. If you have a kid under 6 months of age that scours, always suspect coccidiosis. What does all this rambling mean? It means that for adults, acute parasitic attacks are rare but not for kids so beware! Does that mean you should not be doing strategic parasite management for the does? Of course, you should: fecals, famacha, cleanliness, observation…. However, in my herd, parasitism is never the culprit for a “downer” although it will present itself as a secondary problem when a goat is ill for other reasons.
On that note, onto the respiratory…. Fever, coughing, off feed, low milk production and certainly a raspiness in the lungs can denote a respiratory problem. Watch out for the heavy producers who are working hard! They are the ones who may have a tendency to get worn down and “catch a cold”.
OK, so now you’re just confused but the bottom line with goats is: get a firm grasp of possible symptoms; your vet will love you when you call. Rectal temperature, appetite, age, stage of lactation, feed change, breathing, rumen activity (invest in a stethoscope), fecal matter, alertness and awareness. All these observations will allow you to pinpoint what the issue is!