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  • Kendra R. Shatswell

Udder Health Issues - Part One - Mastitis

While folks hope their does always have healthy udders, it is likely some issue will eventually arise. Here are few common and not-so-common udder problems. Remember to consult your veterinarian or goat mentor for treatment options beforehand so you can act promptly should an issue arise.

Mastitis is a common ailment of the mammary system and is basically an inflammation of the mammary gland usually due to a bacterial or mycoplasma infection. Injuries and fungi are also potential causes. Mastitis can occur in lactating or dry animals, and it can range from subclinical or chronic to gangrenous and can occur in just one half or both sides at once.

Mycloplasma-caused mastitis is contagious, difficult to treat, and might cause a host of other issues simultaneously, including “clinical signs such as arthritis, pneumonia, or conjunctivitis” and “may be associated with respiratory disease or abortion” according to Goat Medicine by Smith and Sherman (662,663). Animals become infected by ingestion or inhalation. A diagnosis is done via a lab, not an at-home test. The best “treatment” is culling the infected animal, in most cases. Bacterial mastitis is more common and more treatable than myclopasma-caused mastitis. Treatment for bacterial mastitis is antibiotics, often intramammary and, unfortunately, often off-label. Most often, mastitis-causing bacteria enter the udder through the teat since the teat sphincter remains open a few hours after milking. Bacterial mastitis can be diagnosed by clinical symptoms or by an at-home test – many folks opt to use the California Mastitis test, for example. Subclinical mastitis is a mild infection which means there are no visible symptoms and the only way to properly diagnose is by culturing the milk. It can be tricky to decide when to test for mastitis without visible symptoms - breeders have opted to test when the doe seems slightly uncomfortable, producing a bit less than usual or producing milk with an off taste, or when an individual milk test or a bulk tank sample reveals an elevated somatic cell count. Clinical mastitis can manifest as visibly enlarged udders or teats that are warmer than normal and milk that is flakey, stringy, clumpy, or sometimes bloody. The doe may be noticeably uncomfortable when milked or when the kids are nursing – some may not allow kids to nurse. The doe may or may not have a slight fever and be a bit lethargic or off feed and milking less than normal. Does might present with lameness because she’s trying not to bump her sore udder as she moves. Gangrenous mastitis, sometimes called “blue bag,” is the most severe bacterial form and manifests very quickly – often in as little as 24 hours – and almost always results in the animal losing the infected side. The tissue gets dark, often going from a red color to black, and is cold to the touch before it necrotizes and sloughs. It might also secrete clear to reddish liquid. Intense supportive care is required to keep the animal from becoming septic, and vigilant wound care is necessary as the udder sloughs then heals from the inside out. Mastectomies are another option in the case of gangrenous mastitis but are a fairly complicated procedure in goats. A CAE-infected doe can have a form of retroviral mastitis. It makes the udder rock-hard but not swollen or hot to the touch. It is not to be confused with udder edema, which typically improves with time, compresses, and/or oxytocin. It can be tricky to diagnose retroviral mastitis but the condition is less likely if the goat in question and herd has tested negative for CAE. While mastitis can occur under even the most diligent management, it is best prevented by cleanliness –teat wipes (without sharing wipes or towels) and dips before and especially after milking, and clean, dry bedding. Hands should be washed and dried – disposable nitrile gloves are a good idea. If a spray is used instead of a teat dip, care must be taken to cover the end of the teat or it won’t be beneficial. Does confirmed with or suspected to have mastitis should be milked last. For those using milking systems, the equipment needs to be clean and the inflations not worn or cracked. Goat Medicine suggests not using liners longer than 60 days. Don’t leave the inflations on if little or no milk is flowing. For those not milking, it pays to pay attention to your does’ udders and notice small changes in her behavior or the feeding habits of the kids so mastitis can be detected early. Next up - teat abnormalities, precocious udders, and other issues! I am not affiliated with Caprine Supply, Hamby Dairy Supply, The Goat Shop, or any of these folks - but I found this neat "Udder Care Kit" here - and more dairy supplies here - and these handy wipes here -


Dawson, L., & Lane, M. (n.d.). Dairy Goat Herd Health: Abnormalities and Mastitis . Langston University's Goat Program.

Smith, M. C. (2007). Goat medicine. Blackwell publishing.


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