Andy Michaels’ goat Henry is a bit of a couch potato. Although he shares a goat house next to the Michaels’ family home with his buddy, Chris, Henry rarely joins Chris on a stroll around the yard. “He is no athlete,” says Michaels. “He never climbs up on his house and he doesn’t walk about. He is more of a cuddler.”
Michaels’ fondness for the two goats is obvious, and they are definitely pets rather than livestock, so when Michaels found Henry laying on his side, unable to rise or stand on his own, he took the goat to the local veterinary emergency room. There Henry was diagnosed with mild anemia and intestinal parasites, neither of which explained his lameness. Henry’s x-rays were normal so the veterinarian recommended Michaels take Henry to OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
When Henry arrived at OSU, large animal veterinarian Keith Poulsen ordered diagnostic tests, but it was a simple physical exam that gave him his first clue to Henry’s problem. Dr. Poulsen detected significant muscle atrophy in Henry’s legs. He suspected Henry was suffering from white muscle disease, so while he waited for the test results, he put Henry on vitamin supplements and a high protein diet.
White muscle disease is a degenerative muscle condition caused by deficiency in either selenium or Vitamin E. Selenium is a trace mineral found in soil and it plays a critical role in reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism and muscle cell health. Most livestock producers in the Pacific Northwest know that Oregon soil contains very low amounts of selenium, so animals whose primary nutrition comes from pasture and locally grown hay or alfalfa need selenium supplements. But people who own a couple of goats or horses as pets are often not aware of the problem.
Before a pet owner considers adding selenium to an animal’s diet, they should check with their veterinarian. Most dog and cat food already contains selenium and too much selenium can be toxic.
Once Henry’s diagnosis of white muscle disease was confirmed, Dr. Poulsen ordered selenium supplements and a program of rehabilitation for nerve dysfunction and muscle weakness. This included acupuncture, range of motion exercises, physical therapy and walking on the underwater treadmill.
How hard is it to get a goat to walk on an underwater treadmill? Depends on the goat. Henry’s mellow personality made it a cake walk, so to speak. Fourth-year student Giovanna Coto was assigned to Henry’s care while he was in the hospital and quickly became attached to the affectionate, easy-going goat. “He’s a love,” she says.
Every other day, for the first week Henry was in the hospital, Coto loaded him onto to a wheeled platform for his journey through the large animal stalls, down the hallway to the treadmill. He required no straps or sedation, but quietly lay still for the entire ride. Once there, Coto sat with him, stroking his back and talking to him while he waited his turn for the rehab room.
At first, although supported by a sling, Henry had trouble moving his legs on the treadmill and required help. But within a week, he showed marked improvement in strength and coordination. By his eighth treadmill session, he was able to walk from his stall to the rehab room on his own, use the treadmill without help, and walk back to his stall.
Now home with his family, Henry is fully recovered with no residual lameness, but it might be hard to tell because he is back to his sedentary ways. The weeks on the OSU treadmill did not turn him into an exercise afficianado. “He still looks like a stuffed goat,” jokes Michaels,”but he can get around just fine.”
Watch video of Henry on the underwater treadmill.