Starving Goats and Refeeding Syndrome

Discussion in 'Health & Wellness' started by goathiker, Jun 23, 2015.

  1. goathiker

    goathiker I'm watching you Staff Member Supporting Member

    © 2015 All rights reserved

    Why animal owners would let their animals starve is a mystery to all of us I'm sure. I suspect that one of the biggest reasons is people getting more than they can care for and "loving" them too much to get rid of some.

    So, somehow a starving goat has come into your life. How do you handle it? What should you do to put her on a path to health?

    Of course, your first reaction is going to be to get this goat eating as fast as possible, to fill her full of supplements and meds...DO NOT DO THIS. Above all DO NOT give ANY worming medications.

    In the healthy goat, she eats her food and through a complicated process involving minerals, vitamins, and amino acids energy is created. If the goat eats more carbohydrates and fats than she needs then the excess is stored in the cells for later use. Protein is used up immediately for day to day function and is not stored. It is used to build cells in the body.

    In the starving goat, she has very little, if anything at all to eat. The energy process must go on though for her to sustain life. Her system over rides the health of her body to protect the brain. She begins to use up the protein of her own cells to stay alive, this includes the cells of her stomachs, intestines, and heart.

    It is very important for the rescuer to understand how to begin refeeding and why if it is done wrong, it can cause the severe complications.

    Refeeding syndrome was first discovered when the Jews were rescued from the Concentration Camps, the very act of eating was detrimental to these starving people. Similar reactions occur in starving goats. This syndrome can cause kidney, heart, and respiratory failure 2 to 5 days after the first feeding.

    In ‘Saving Survivors,’ King explains that, ‘When you introduce calories you have an elevation in the insulin, when insulin increases; it starts an electrolyte shift that ultimately can cause a respiratory compromise. Consequently, red blood cells collapse; with that, the patient doesn’t have adequate oxygen transfer and the horse goes into this irreversible condition that can lead to death.” (King, 2003)

    Electrolyte imbalances are at the root of the complications associated with ‘re-feeding syndrome’. The more notable problems include hypomagnesaemia, hypokalemia and hypophosphatemia. When carbohydrates, or glucose, is fed to the starving animal these electrolytes are driven into the intracellular compartment causing a severe deficiency of serum electrolyte levels (UC Davis, Shelter)

    When a starving animal is fed a high carbohydrate meal, insulin is released in response to the high starch levels. Insulin is a hormone that stores carbohydrates in cells for use as an energy source. At the same time, the released insulin pulls magnesium and phosphorous out of circulation and into the cell. During starvation the animal’s electrolytes have been depleted and the starved animal doesn’t have additional stores available for normal functioning. During the course of the next several days a cumulative effect occurs during each feeding of high carbohydrate feed. The continued depletion of these electrolytes can lead to death by respiratory, cardiac or kidney failure. (Dr. Caroline Stull PhD)

    Managing a starving Goat

    When refeeding a starving goat some important things to remember are...

    Refeeding Syndrome usually happens in the first week of feeding.
    The recommended diet is low carbohydrate and low fat.
    Alfalfa hay is recommended.
    The best approach is tiny, very frequent meals of high quality alfalfa hay.
    The frequency should be decreased and the amount of each meal raised very slowly over a 14 day period.
    After 2 weeks the goat can be slowly raised to as much alfalfa as she wants. Researchers feel that this is the time period to adjust from a starved state to a fed state.
    The energy level of the goat should increase at the 2 week time period. Animation of the ears and face will be the first sign she's getting better.
    6 months to a year is required to bring the goat back to acceptable health.

    Starved animals have impaired immune systems so, they must be kept separate from other animals.

    Signs to watch for include: Muscle weakness, Neurological dysfunction (polio), irritability or aggression, anemia, she may need electrolyte (CMPK) injections if any of these signs are noticed.

    Another refeeding problem is depleted thiamine. Goats make thiamine in their rumen to help digest carbohydrates. The resulting depletion can become worse when feeding begins so, thiamine injections should be provided.

    The refeeding schedule should look something like this for the standard sized adult:
    Adjust amounts depending on the situation and size of the goat

    Days 1-3: Divide 1.5 lb of alfalfa into 6 feedings
    Days 4-14: Very slowly increase the amount of alfalfa hay and decrease the number of feedings until you are feeding 1 lb of alfalfa every 8 hours for a daily total of 3 lbs.

    Day 14 to around 6 months: Very slowly increase the amount of alfalfa to all they can eat and decrease feedings to twice a day. Provide a good mineral supplement but NOTHING else. Giving grain and/or supplements at this point will set her back and may still cause death.

    DO NOT give grain until the goat looks/acts healthy in every way and the lost weight is almost completely regained.

    Provide fresh clean water at all times.

    De-worming can be done when the goat is easily eating as much alfalfa as she should be twice a day with no ill effects and her appetite has stabilized.


    Stull, Carolyn, PhD, July 2003, The Horse Report, UC Davis, Volume 21, Number 3, pp456-457 ‘Nutrition for Rehabilitating the Starved Horse’, UC
    Davis Medical Center.
    UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program

    King, Marcia, April 2003, ‘Saving Survivors, Article # 4283]
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2015
  2. Trickyroo

    Trickyroo New Member

    Sep 26, 2012
    New York
    Wonderful info ! So much to learn !
    Thank you for making this thread Jill. :hi5:
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2015

  3. CountyLineAcres

    CountyLineAcres Well-Known Member

    Jan 22, 2014
    Mineral Ridge, Ohio
  4. nancy d

    nancy d Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Oct 5, 2007
    near Seattle
    Good info Jill, thank you!
  5. Bree_6293

    Bree_6293 Briawell6293

    Aug 3, 2014
    Thank you for this info! Very interesting!
  6. ksalvagno

    ksalvagno Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    This is great information.
  7. melbah1

    melbah1 Member

    You mention giving thiamine. One that schedule, when and how much? Can that be a fortified B complex thats available at farm stores?
  8. dreamacresfarm2

    dreamacresfarm2 also known as Mayia real life Cheri

    May 10, 2014
  9. goathiker

    goathiker I'm watching you Staff Member Supporting Member

    Yes, fortified B complex would work. Since the animal is going to be closely watched and seen at least every 4 hours for those first feedings, I would give one shot daily at a rate of 1 cc per 25 lbs. That would need increased if the animal begins showing symptoms of Polio.

    Lessening stress is going to also be a big factor in the goat surviving so, the less we can do to her, the better.
  10. happybleats

    happybleats Well-Known Member

    Sep 12, 2010
    Gustine Texas
    you know I love this stuff!! Thank you for sharing....May I post this on my FB sight? : )
  11. groovyoldlady

    groovyoldlady Goat Crazy!

    Jul 21, 2011
    Central Maine
    Extremely helpful info to have! Thank you!
  12. goathiker

    goathiker I'm watching you Staff Member Supporting Member

    Let me clean it up a bit and add the citations Cathy, then I'll send you a copy.
  13. Little-Bits-N-Pieces

    Little-Bits-N-Pieces Active Member

    Apr 7, 2013
    Hey Jill, the grain concerns with starving goats, does this apply to goats that have a starved goats body condition, but they do eat hay and grass regularly, just not that much?
  14. happybleats

    happybleats Well-Known Member

    Sep 12, 2010
    Gustine Texas
  15. Trickyroo

    Trickyroo New Member

    Sep 26, 2012
    New York
    Should be a sticky !
    Jill , your awesome , we are so lucky to have you here ;)
  16. goathiker

    goathiker I'm watching you Staff Member Supporting Member

    You know this one if you think about it Lacie :lol:

    Test her urine before and after eating grain to see if the carbs are making her pull protein for digestion.
  17. FloatnRockRanch

    FloatnRockRanch New Member

    Feb 7, 2015
    Bellingham, WA
    Fantastic post Goathiker! This should be a sticky!

    Question: Where does the browse/forage come in to play? Not meaning grass here, the real stuff...leaves, branches etc. Can they have this from the beginning along with alfalfa or wait for a period of time?
  18. Jessica84

    Jessica84 Well-Known Member

    Oct 27, 2011
    Awsome info!!! Although I realized I tried killing a few goats over the years without knowing it!!!
  19. goathiker

    goathiker I'm watching you Staff Member Supporting Member

    The idea is to make the rumen and digestive tract work as little as possible until the cells are all replenished. That hasn't happened until the goat is steadily gaining weight and looks shiny, healthy, and animated.

    Forage and browse plants contain sugars, carbohydrates, a mixed bag of tannins, numerous glycosides, Thiaminase, etc.

    The healthy goat can deal with these as they are able to use the natural resources of their bodies to throw off the effects of the tiny amounts the plants contain. This is what the liver does.
    Grass (green and dried) also is very high in sugars and carbohydrates.

    A starved goat on the other hand is missing parts of itself, their liver is not functioning well if at all. Everything is going to affect them much more and they simply would not be able to cope with it.
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2015
  20. Jasmar

    Jasmar Member

    Mar 28, 2015
    NW Oregon
    Boy, we lucked into getting Magda into such good shape! The only thing she wanted when we brought her home was fresh grass, but we were able to get her to eat alfalfa pretty quickly.