The problem was, aside from obviously feeling pretty terrible, Gwen had no other symptoms. No vomiting or diarrhea. Her appetite was good, and she still seemed to be getting around ok. The vet gave her a shot of B vitamins, prescribed an antibiotic, and sent us on our way with a request to report if anything else developed...
Within a day or two, things started to get much worse for little Gwenny. She started having tremors. Shivering all over. We couldn't tell for sure whether these were a new symptom or if she was just cold so we bundled her up in a shirt and a warm dog jacket. She started having more trouble getting around, stumbling a lot and seeming to want to turn to the left. We did some research and found that these are the most commonly the symptoms of one of two diseased in goats: listeria infection and goat polio.
Listeria infection is caused by exposure to a bacteria that then attacks the goat's brain and causes lesions. This option was particularly scary to me since listeria is known to cause abortion in humans, and at that time I was in the early stages of my own pregnancy.
The good news was both diseases are very treatable if caught early which we were sure we had. We started Gwen on injections of thiamine in case it was polio and changed her to a new antibiotic in the case of listeria. We were giving her shots every 6 hours around the clock for days which she really, really did not like. At the suggestion of an online friend with goats, we discovered that Gwen loved mashed bananas so we always made sure to bring a syringe full of the tasty treat to distract her while giving the injections. The bananas were also a great way to sneak a little extra nutrition to her. I would mash up a few very ripe bananas then add molasses, electrolytes, oral B vitamins, and probiotics in an effort to give our little girl an extra boost.
Unfortunately, nothing seemed to be helping. Everything we'd read said that both listeria and polio should show marked improvement with treatment in the space of just a few injections, but Gwen continued to decline. She could still get up and down on her own but only with some effort. Most of the time she preferred to be standing and leaning on something so we made sure to switch the side on which she was leaning every few hours. She was having even more trouble moving around and would swing her head and turn to the left if left to her own devices. We set her up in a pen with close access to regular hay, alfalfa, grain, water, and even some molasses mixed in water to encourage her to stay hydrated. Through it all, her appetite never flagged. She would eat and drink whatever we put in front of her, and she loved those syringefuls of banana.
One warm and sunny Saturday morning a few days into her decline, we brought Gwen into the backyard in hopes that some fresh air and sunshine might make her feel better. That morning I had given her a shot of an anti-inflammatory to see if there was inflammation around her brain causing the issue. This was the first day we saw anything that I would consider improvement. She got up and walked in a straight line for a few paces. She nibbled at the grass seeming to enjoy the change of scenery and menu. She even responded when we called her name, turning and trying to look up at us. Big Onion and I thrilled at the idea that things were finally turning around for our Gwenny.
By that evening, though, Gwen started to decline again. She started falling and was unable to get up on her own. If propped up, she would circle to the left constantly. We moved her to the backyard pen so that we could keep an even closer eye on her, again setting her up with food and drink within reach. We were still doing the injections every 6 hours round the clock and added the anti-inflammatory to the regimen once a day, but it never seemed to affect her the way it had that first time.
Out of desperation, I brought her to work at with me to have my boss, a small animal vet, take a look at her in hopes that she could offer something, anything to bring our girl around. My boss said Gwen was acting like she had lesions in her brain. She found that she was blind in one eye and one side of her face seemed to be paralyzed. She suggested we change to a third antibiotic, one that did a better job of crossing the blood/brain barrier.
We switched the drugs and brought Gwen back home again, but even this did nothing to improve her condition. She started falling and flailing in her pen. We'd find her lying on her side in a pile of obviously disturbed bedding. We started leaving her lying down, instead of propped on her feet in a deep bed of hay and shavings. We could come and stand her up every few hours so that she could eliminate and change her position. Her legs were stiff and unresponsive, and her head curled around to the side out of her control.
It became obvious that we were losing this fight. The frustration of losing control of her own body became clear on my little girl's always expressive face. She started to fear our approach knowing that every time we would be giving her painful injections that even the delicious banana didn't distract from any longer.
On Christmas eve we found her fallen once again and this time she couldn't stay upright. She was scared and sick, and we decided that we had lost the fight. We said goodbye to our little Gwen and watched her slip away in our arms. We whispered how much we loved her and how sorry we were that we couldn't save her. We sat on the bathroom floor and cried over her beautiful little body then talked about all the good times we'd had with her.
Gwen was my baby. She was the very first goat born here on the farm. At the time, we knew that her mother had CAE, a terrible virus that can cause a whole host of problems in goats. When Josie was due to kid we checked on her every few hours, sleeping in shifts to make sure we could find her kids before they had nursed from her and contracted the virus.
I'll never forget trudging out in the wee hours of the morning and hearing a new sound for the first time as I approached the covered area. There was Josie quietly talking to her new baby while this beautiful little kid flopped around in the dirt, trying to find her feet. I remember hearing her tiny, high pitched little cry and feeling a surge of something I had never experienced before. This was MY BABY, and I had to protect it! I scooped up the soggy, screaming, dirt covered newborn and held her close while I rushed back up to the house. Our bond was formed right then and there. From then on Gwen was my baby girl, my sweet monkey face. Until the end, she never failed to whip her head around then come running when I called her name.
I cried into her soft fur when my grandmother died and sat close and helped her give birth to her only kids, a beautiful set of twin girls. She was a spoiled brat and a little snot, and we loved her all the more for it. When we had guests on the farm, Gwen would use her curved horns to smack them in the hands and try to steal things from their pockets. Every day I would grab her and kiss her little pink nose then she would disgustedly shake her head every time. She was even the flower girl at our wedding! Before Gwen, I would have never thought one could be so close to a barnyard animal, but that little girl was something special. Losing her broke my heart into pieces. She was only 3 years old, and she went from fine and seemly healthy to gone in only the space of a week. That is why it has taken so long to tell this story and even now I have trouble seeing the screen though my tears.
So what happened to take our Gwenny from us at such a young age? Well, despite our best efforts, Gwen did manage to contract CAE. Not from her mother, but from Thea, the goat that we purchased (with the assurance that she was CAE negative) in order to feed our baby Gwen. One of the first ways that CAE manifests in goat is in the form of encephalitis, a swelling in the brain, that usually happens when a kid is 3-4 months old. When Gwen managed to avoid this, we thought the virus might take its more common course of causing arthritis and eventual wasting in Gwen. If you recall, we had a first hand view of this process with Jenni.
Our best guess is that since Gwen's condition did not respond at all to the normal treatments for polio and listeria, the encephalitis that normally strikes young kids must have come upon her later in life. This is why we saw a slight improvement with the anti-inflammatory before the swelling in her head got too bad to respond. Her death was sudden and tragic, but I feel like we did everything we possibly could before giving up.
There is no treatment for CAE. At this time, Gwen is the only goat who has ever contracted the virus on our farm. Now we are sure to test every new animal before it joins our herd. Since we do have the disease on our farm, we also test every goat before she kids every time. It's a horrible disease with no cure that ruins and shortens the lives of so many goats. I just hope that Gwen's story can help keep others from making the same mistakes we have.
Rest in peace my sweet monkey face.