Scours can be common when raising goats. It’s important to know what scours are, what causes them and how to remedy them so producers can help goats bounce back and thrive.

Q: What are scours in goats?

A: Scours is a common name for diarrhea. It can vary in color and consistency – from pasty white to watery brown. Scours can lead to dehydration, depression, loss of appetite, weakness and even death when left untreated. That’s why it’s critical to catch diarrhea early and quickly take action to remedy. Know the causes and complications of scours so it can be identified early and severe health implications can be avoided.

Q: What causes scours in goats?

A: Many stressors trigger scours in goats. Common stressors in goats include cold and wet weather, poor sanitation, transportation, exposure to new animals, dehorning, vaccination, weaning, temperature fluctuations and reduced feed intake. All those stressors can increase susceptibility to scours-causing pathogens. Monitor newborn goats closely because they are more susceptible.

Q: How do I know if a goat is dehydrated?

A: To determine if a goat is dehydrated, pinch the skin on the side of the goat’s neck. If the skin “tents,” a slow return of the skin to its normal position after being pinched, the goat is dehydrated and in desperate need of hydration. Know what normal looks like by practicing the test on healthy bright and alert kids. In goat kids dehydration can be serious because it could lead to death if not quickly and properly treated. Consult a veterinarian immediately if a goat appears to have severe dehydration. Watch for signs of weakness, sunken eyes, dry nose, pale and sticky gums, or weight loss. It may need to receive fluids intravenously.

Q: What are electrolytes?

A: Electrolytes are a concentrated nutritional supplement fed at the first sign of stress or scours. They restore nutrients and help the body maintain fluid balance to prevent dehydration. Electrolytes consist of acids, bases or salts. Those could include sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and chloride. Sodium is the main electrolyte found in body fluids, which helps maintain fluid balance.

There are other electrolyte ingredients.

  • Dextrose or glucose provides energy and helps maintain body condition.
  • Sodium bicarbonate helps regulate blood pH levels for proper organ function.
  • Direct-fed microbials or probiotics support immunity during times of stress.
  • Prebiotics support digestive health.
  • Glycine enhances the absorption of glucose for energy.

Look for an electrolyte containing a balance of those ingredients to ensure goats receive proper hydration.

Q: When and how do I feed electrolytes?

A: If stress or scours is present, feed electrolytes immediately. Mix electrolyte powder into warm water according to package instructions. Always feed electrolytes separately from milk or milk replacer. They should be fed between normal milk feedings to provide additional fluids and energy. It’s also important that electrolytes don’t replace a milk feeding. Electrolytes don't contain all the nutrients in milk or milk replacer. Offer electrolytes in addition to the goat’s normal milk diet.

Offer electrolytes one to three times per day. Continue to feed them for two to three days until scours has stopped and hydration is normal, or as directed by a veterinarian. Remember to offer plenty of clean fresh water. Watch for signs of severe diarrhea where the goat is weak, depressed, not eating or not responding to oral electrolytes. Severe diarrhea is a medical emergency, which requires intravenous fluids and other medications from a veterinarian.

Q: Can I give electrolytes to adult goats?

A: Yes even adult goats can benefit from electrolytes. Feed adult goats electrolytes ahead of stress events such as transportation, environmental changes or during kidding. In those situations offer electrolytes free-choice as the only source of drinking water for one hour, two to three times daily. Proactively feeding electrolytes can help goats during times of stress to keep them healthy and thriving – regardless of age. Goats respond well to electrolytes. Always keep electrolytes on hand. They’re a simple solution if goats are experiencing scours or dehydration.

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Dr. Julian “Skip” Olson, veterinarian, is technical-services manager for Milk Products located near Chilton, Wisconsin. Visit for more information.