Merck Manual

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Professional Version

Copper Deficiency in Goats

(Swayback, Enzootic Ataxia)


Evelyn MacKay

, DVM, Texas A&M University

Reviewed/Revised Sep 2022 | Modified Oct 2022

Copper deficiency may present in goats in two distinct ways. Copper deficiency in utero due to inadequate dietary copper intake of the doe during pregnancy will cause a neurologic condition known as enzootic ataxia or swayback. This results in permanent myelin degeneration in the spinal cord, leading to progressive incoordination and paralysis of the kids, which typically appear normal at birth. Clinically, this appears similar to the neurologic form of caprine arthritis and encephalitis virus Caprine Arthritis and Encephalitis infection in young kids. Copper status of the ration needs to be evaluated, and copper supplementation provided as necessary to pregnant does. Copper supplementation of the kids will not reverse their clinical signs, which are permanent and progressive.

Copper deficiency after the neonatal period can cause abnormal bone growth with increased bone fragility, in addition to other clinical signs, such as poor coat, anemia, weight loss, and decreased fertility. Copper-deficient animals are more likely to sustain fractures of the long bones.

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