Shipping fever is a form of pneumonia that affects animals due to the stress of transportation
Stanley, a parapet and a farm manager in Yatta in Machakos County, called me two weeks ago to say their goats were dying suddenly.
They would show poor appetite and rapid laboured breathing, only to be found dead the following day.
The resident goat herd was fine but the problem affected some 100 goats he had personally bought in Mwingi a week earlier and transported them to the farm in three lots.
The goats were all male, aged at least one-year-old. He had castrated and vaccinated all of them on the third day of arrival but they started dying within the week.
At the time of reporting, he had already lost 17 goats and others were increasingly showing signs of illness by the day. A few of the goats were coughing and others had severe diarrhoea.
Luckily, he had not mixed the new animals with the resident herd of 500 animals.
I prescribed the antibiotic he should immediately give to the very sick goats as I travelled to the farm. Stanley is a qualified and licensed parapet, but he needed my intervention after carrying out treatment without success.
Parapets are trained at three levels namely diploma, certificate and degree in animal health and production. At the certificate level, they are mainly animal health assistants to the veterinary doctor.
With diploma training, they take up more managerial roles in livestock production and less in animal health. At the degree level, they are almost entirely involved in managerial, training and research.
Upon arrival on the farm, I found the new goat herd restrained in their enclosure near the farm entrance and about 500 metres from the resident herd.
All the goats were in fair to good body condition. I identified eight goats that showed rapid laboured breathing and thoroughly examined them. They had normal temperature or mild fever.
Six of the goats had wet lung sounds indicating pneumonia with fluid while the other two coughed heavily when I pressed their trachea (windpipe) and larynx (voice box).
DUE TO TRANSPORTATION
I diagnosed shipping fever and injected all the eight goats with one type of a combination antibiotic in the jugular vein and another one in the muscles of the neck.
I also instructed Stanley to continue with once daily injection of one of the drugs in the muscles to maintain the required level of the drug in the blood. He would also give all the goats anticoccidia medicine by mouth to treat and prevent diarrhoea.
In addition, I instructed Stanley to inject all the goats immediately with a preventive antibiotic once daily for three days to protect them from catching the bacteria causing the pneumonia from the sick goats or from their own bodies.
Shipping or transit fever is a form of pneumonia that affects animals due to the stress of transportation. The disease can be prevented by injecting animals with antibiotics before transportation.
The disease name is an anomaly because animals can still be affected if they are stressed by other factors such as rough handling, dust, hot or cold weather, castration and dehorning.
Stanley’s case was due to transportation from Mwingi to Yatta and the additional stress caused by castration and vaccination once the animals arrived on the farm.
Besides that, cold stress also contributed to the pneumonia outbreak because Mwingi was hot while Yatta was cold, especially at night.
The goats had not been given the prophylactic antibiotic before shipment. Transit fever is caused by a host of bacteria that are normal residents of the respiratory tract and the gut of animals.
Under normal circumstances, the bacteria are kept in check by the body’s immune system. The main culprits in shipping fever are micro-organism in the pasteurella group of bacteria.
The disease is, therefore, generally called pasteurellosis or pasteurella pneumonia. The term transit or shipping fever was initially used when the disease was observed in animals that had been transported.
During periods of stress, the body produces a chemical called cortisol that suppresses immunity but helps in coping with stress.
The suppressed immunity stimulates increased growth of the normally harmless bacteria in the respiratory tract. The micro-organisms invade the lining of the respiratory tract and also spread down the airways into the lungs.
Some of the bacteria like Mannheimia haemolytica produce very potent toxins that heavily inflame the lung tissue causing tissue death, fluid accumulation and deposition of a whitish yellow protein material called fibrin on the lungs.
The toxins create breakages in the lung blood vessels and enable the bacteria to be spread in the body through blood.
This disease situation is called septicaemia and it causes a toxic shock that results in the sudden death of the affected goats.
Stanley showed me lung pictures of some of the goats that had died and it was evident the goats had died of shipping fever.
Failing to observe the recommended shipping protocol for goats is inviting disaster. Goats should be vaccinated, dewormed and treated for ticks, fleas and mites at least one week before transportation.
They should be given prophylactic antibiotic to inhibit the growth of the pasteurella bacteria due to transport stress.
Transportation should be done in a suitable vehicle availing the goats a comfortable body posture and protection from the wind.
Once on the farm, the animals should be isolated from the resident herd, be kept warm and well-fed. Husbandry practices like castration, dehorning and hoof shearing should either be done before the goats travel or after the animals have acclimatised to their new environment.
Late treatment of the disease is usually unsuccessful and frustrating. In Stanley’s case, he still lost two of the most affected goats despite the intense treatment.