Friends, I am sad to report that our beloved Billy Jean passed away. Last week Billy became listless and her temperature was dropping drastically. We warmed her with blankets and heat lamps and our VET pulled blood. Early reports indicated she had low sugar and all other bloodwork was normal. We couldn’t understand why we couldn’t get her temperature to self-regulate correctly. Usually Goat temps are between 100 and 102 degrees. Throughout the day her temperature did rise, we gave her CARO syrup every 6 hours and monitored her. She was eating and playing and seemed to be doing much better. That evening her temp was fluctuating again. Staff member Roper stayed the night with her in the barn and monitored her. The following morning her temp dropped to 94 degrees. Our VET started a IV and we had her in the clinic. We were keeping her very warm. Everyone was baffled because there was not anything that would suggest the irregular body temp changes. Once she was stabilized we took her to OSU. Unfortunately, Billie Jean passed away. Billie jean was only 8 so we wanted an autopsy to determine what exactly happened. There were no signs of parasites, her bloodwork was normal, she was eating well and so what happened? Preliminary autopsy results seem to suggest that Billie Jean had What is called Johne’s Disease. Most likely she got it when she was a baby and it takes years to develop.
Johne’s disease, a chronic (years) mycobacterial infection, affects principally the lower small intestine of many ruminants. Cattle, sheep and goats and less frequently deer, llamas, bison and other ruminants are all susceptible to the disease. Johne’s disease usually refers to the clinical condition associated with the mycobacterial infection, where as the term “Paratuberculosis” usually refers to the state of being infected with the causative organism M. Paratuberculosis but not necessarily having clinical signs.
How does Johne’s Disease occur?
The most likely time for infection to occur is at or soon after the time of birth. The most frequent way newborns become infected is by swallowing small particles of infected manure from the calving environment, or from the teat or udder of the cow. In addition, calves can be infected while in the uterus or they can ingest bacteria which can be passed in the colostrum of milk. Slaughter studies have shown that as many as 25% of calves were infected in-utero if the pregnant cow had clinical signs of Johne’s disease. The risk to the calf of infection by any of these three routes increases as the cow enters more advanced states of the disease.
After infection, the bacteria grow slowly in the intestinal wall. These changes impair normal function and result in weight loss and diarrhea. Eventually, protein nutrients leak directly from the bloodstream into the intestine causing low blood protein and bottle jaw.
Which animals are susceptible to Johne’s infection?
Calves, or young animals are more susceptible to infection with Johne’s disease than adult animals. Although animals develop some resistance with age, cattle or animals of any age can be infected when introduced into an infective environment, particularly where animal density is high or where feed or water can be contaminated with manure from infected animals. All breeds of cattle, sheep, and goats are susceptible to Johne’s disease. Species and breed probably vary in susceptibility and prevalence. For example, Johne’s disease occurs more often in dairy than beef cattle, but the true reasons for such differences have not been studied.
When does clinical Johne’s Disease develop?
Even when animals are infected at a very young age, clinical disease rarely appears before two years of age. Animals exposed at an older age (18-24 months or older) or exposed to a very small dose of bacteria at a young age, are not likely to develop clinical disease until they are much older than two years. Some animals may not show clinical signs for ten years or more. Age at the time of first exposure and the dose or the number of organisms ingested are the major factors that determine when clinical disease will develop. Observation suggests that animals tolerate Paratuberculosis infection better under conditions of good nutrition and husbandry. Different species also display variations in clinical signs. For example, sheep and goats typically show weight loss but rarely develop diarrhea.
Since we almost never have history on any of our animals and they come to us from deplorable conditions. This certainly would make sense. We will keep you posted as we get the final results in the next few weeks. Special Thanks to Roper and the staff at Ranch Hand Rescue for providing Billie Jean with such amazing care and unconditional love in her last hours. We will miss her. RIP Billie Jean!