Vet on Call: Curious case of goats that won’t stop ‘praying’

Friday March 02 2018
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A carpal-walking goat. The condition is caused by foot-rot and foot overgrowth and farmers should regularly inspect the hooves of their goats and trim those that show overgrowth to keep this condition away. PHOTO | JOSEPH MUGACHIA | NMG


I had barely reached home from church last Sunday when the phone call came. It was from Kimani of a farm in Kandara where he was the acting manager.

Kimani said he had two cases; one of sheep and the other of goats. “Doctor, our goats have formed this habit of behaving like though they are praying,” he said.

After prodding, he explained that over the past eight days, some goats in the herd would go down on their front knees and stay in that position for long even when they were feeding.

The goats were, however, eating and drinking water normally. Some of the goats would abandon the behaviour after two or three days but two were consistent.

I told Kimani I would attend to the case the next day because it was not an emergency.

“There is also the other case of two sheep,” Kimani said. He explained one sheep had a jaw swollen on the lower side and was unable to stand or eat. The other had started to show similar behaviour.


Now that was an emergency and in about an hour, I was on the farm. I first checked the recumbent sheep. It had swollen lower jaws, what is referred to as “bottle jaw”.

The name arises from the bottle-like appearance of the jaws when they are swollen. The insides of the eyelids and gums were white instead of pink or red. This meant there was very little blood in the sheep. There were no fleas, ticks or lice on the animal’s skin.

The heart was very weak and fast while the breathing was shallow and also fast. The temperature was low at 36 degrees centigrade. That was not a good sign for survival. The anal area was soiled with diarrhoea.

I diagnosed anaemia, and heavy infestation by gastro-intestinal worms. My question was, why the infestation while the farm dewormed the animals every three months.

Kimani said the sick sheep had arrived on the farm a month before but they had not been dewormed because the seller said he had done it.


I treated the two sheep with antibiotics, multivitamin, iron and worm medicine, which I gave both by mouth and injection. I instructed Kimani to keep them warm.

Sadly, I informed him the very sick sheep could either survive or die because it had lost a lot of blood to worms and the worm medicine would take time to kill the internal parasites.

Further, the drop in body temperature was an ominous sign that the body systems may already have started shutting down.

The less affected sheep had a very good chance of uneventful recovery since the mucous membranes were still pink, the temperature normal and had only mild diarrhoea.

Before leaving the sheep flock, I instructed Kimani to deworm all the sheep and goats that were in the same herd and repeat the treatment after two weeks.

This was to clear any worms the animals could have acquired from the sick sheep. Farmers are advised to deworm animals with a reputable product on arrival on their farm or at the farm of origin, prior to introducing them to the resident herd.

Now to the praying goat. I attended to them at a different section of the farm. The two persistently kneeling goats were still in the “prayer” posture.

Though goats are said to love kneeling, they actually use their carpal joint, which is the joint above the hoof joint in the front legs.

This is the equivalent of the human wrist. The real knee is found in the hind leg attached to the thigh by a fold of skin.
Both goats had normal temperature, heart rate and breathing rate.

The hooves were overgrown forward at the tips and inward from the sides. There was sharp pain when I applied pressure on the hooves. “How do you know the pain is sharp?” Kimani asked me when I mentioned it.

“Well, you can tell from the high speed and force that the goat withdraws the foot when pressure is applied,” I explained. The front leg hooves had a rotten smell and some wetness between the claws. I diagnosed foot overgrowth and foot-rot.


The goats’ feet were so painful that the animals preferred to kneel and stay in that position. The overgrowth of hooves also made standing uncomfortable and unstable.

Carpal-walking is a common occurrence in goats with foot-rot and foot overgrowth. Some foot-rot cases may heal without treatment but others must be treated.

If the goat remains on its knees for too long, the front legs may get permanently deformed and the animal would not be able to stand again. Prompt treatment is advised.

I treated the goats with two types of antibiotic injections. I also gave them multivitamin and an injection to reduce inflammation. I advised Kimani to trim the goats’ hooves with a sheers. The trimming is technically called “hoof paring”.

He was also to dip the hooves in a copper sulphate solution twice daily for five days to kill the infecting micro-organisms in the outer hoof tissue where the injected antibiotics could not reach. Dipping the hooves would also prevent reinfection from the environment.

Foot-rot and foot overgrowth are two main causes of economic losses to sheep and goat farmers mainly due to loss of weight and poor weight gains in affected animals. Foot-rot is a disease caused mainly by the bacteria Fusiformis nodosus and Spirochaeta penortha.

Both problems occur when goats and sheep are kept in wet soft conditions that encourage hoof overgrowth and bacterial infection.

Confinement of goats also encourages wetness and foot overgrowth due to limited movement. The problems may occur in one or all the four hooves.

Under normal circumstances, goats in open type of production, as happens in the rangelands, walk long distances and their feet are trimmed by friction with the ground as they walk.


Some cases of foot-rot may recover without treatment but affected animals may become carriers of the bacteria and keep contaminating the environment, thereby keeping the infection live in the herd.

To keep foot-rot and hoof overgrowth at bay, farmers should regularly inspect the hooves of their goats and trim those that show overgrowth.

You know hooves are overgrown when the tips protrude forward or upwards from the hoof body or when you find the sides of the hooves growing inwards or even outwards from the edges of the hoof.

Hooves should be trimmed once every three months by removing the excess tissue using a pair of hoof sheers or a hoof knife.

To keep the offending bacteria off your herd or flock, you should have foot baths of copper sulphate solution or formalin to dip the sheep and goats’ feet regularly once every week.

All cases of foot-rot should be promptly treated by a veterinary service provider if not cured by foot dipping to minimise environmental contamination with the culprit bacteria and spread to other animals.

Kimani’s goats recovered fully after treatment and trimming of the hooves. The less sickly sheep recovered but unfortunately the recumbent one succumbed to the effects of the worms two days after treatment.