Out of Africa - Part 2

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.


If you happen to have read the last Pet Tales column, you may remember I have left you standing with me outside a small fenced enclosure of 50-60 goats. It is early morning of another, soon-to-be, blistering hot day. Inside the enclosure, a woman and her daughter, are trying to milk some of the goats. I have just left my train, the Pride of Africa, standing on a single railway track a few hundred meters distant and I am enjoying a superb photo op moment, on a journey through Namibia. I have snuck away from all the other passengers on the train to enjoy this experience, but have only 20-30 minutes before I must re-join them for our excursion into the desert.


After initial greetings and gaining permission for the photography, I told the woman and her daughter that I was an animal doctor from Canada. The teen-aged girl immediately told me that they were having health problems with some of their newborn goats. Several had already died. She said there was a nanny and her kid, just a few weeks old, similarly affected, close by. It was in the fenced paddock area that surrounded the more heavily fortified area where the goats spent the night and where the milking was now being done. I asked if it would be possible for me to examine the kid. I was immediately invited into the paddock. I crawled between the strands of barbed wire and, fortunately stepped unscathed into the paddock. As I was doing so, I had occasion to reassess my decision. For one thing, I could not remember the last time, if ever, that I had examined a goat. However, of much more immediate concern, were those three guard dogs that had reacted so unfavourably to my approach a few minutes earlier. Despite being scolded into accepting my presence then, this time they were even more sure that I should not be in the paddock. They came at me, in full charge, hackles raised, lips curled back, snarling, barking and growling in unison. Fortunately, once again, my teen-aged protector was able to call them off and allow me to remain, unwounded.


Nearby, was the nanny goat and her sick kid. The girl told me that this one, just like the others, seemed very painful when it stood and could take only a few steps before collapsing, when it tried to walk. I picked it up, examined it and noted its very swollen, painful joints - especially the carpal and elbow joints of the front legs. Otherwise, there were no abnormal findings. When I placed it back on the ground, the nanny came closer and stood protectively over her offspring. There, lying on the ground, with its legs folded beneath it, the kid began to vigourously nurse from its mother. Minutes later, when the nanny wandered off to search the barren ground for something to eat for herself, the kid remained behind, laying on the ground.


I was quite confident I knew the young goat's problem. My tentative diagnosis was joint ill or infectious arthritis. It is a common illness that affects young goats. Bacteria, either from the umbilicus or the gastro-intestinal tract, enter the blood stream to reach the joints. Affected joints become swollen, warm and very painful; the goat becomes non-weight-bearing on the affected limb, can develop a fever and lose its appetite. Weakness and death may follow. The same disease can affect young dogs. In my experience, it seems more common in medium and large breed dogs, less than a year old.


I asked the young girl if she had any medicines she had used in those kids previously affected. She went into the tin sheet shack, a few steps away, that was her home and returned carrying one bottle of an injectable antibiotic and another of a vaccine. When I questioned her how she had obtained these medications, she told me they were available in the nearby town. I suggested another anti-bacterial medication that, in my opinion, might be more successful in treating the kid and told her the dosage to use. I reached into my pocket and gave her money to buy the medicine. I told her it would be important to keep the nanny and kid close together during treatment. Perhaps gathering food and bringing it to the nanny, since it would be impossible for the kid to keep up with its mom when the herd was out grazing. Unfortunately, for this little goat, some of the more aggressive therapies - flushing the joints and intra-articular antibiotics - were just not possible, in these circumstances.


Sadly, I will never know the outcome of this case. However, as I hurried back to the train  I knew I had just had an experience that I would never forget. In this bleak, harsh and unforgiving, semi-desert setting of central Namibia, I had just witnessed and been part of, another example of the millennial old human-animal bond. Barry Burtis is a local companion animal veterinarian. Past Pet Tales can be found at www.baycitiesanimalhospital.ca