Wonky Limbs in Newborn Goats - To BoSe or Not to BoSe?
Each kidding season means seeing kids with cramped-up limbs and produces scrambling for the BoSe and selenium gel. Selenium supplementation is a prevalent cure-all treatment on the internet and very often suggested for newborn kids that have wonky limbs, but is a cramped-up kid always experiencing selenium deficiency? Maybe...maybe not...
Serious selenium/Vitamin E deficiency manifests as nutritional muscular dystrophy, known as White Muscle Disease. That isn't floppy, loose back limbs that have trouble working properly, and it most likely isn’t kids with stiff front limbs walking on their tip-toes. (For clarification, when I say "floppy," I am just describing the limbs. I don’t mean Floppy Kid Syndrome - that is a metabolic issue.) On selenium deficiency from the textbook Goat Medicine by Smith and Sherman - "When the limbs are involved, affected animals become stiff-gaited initially or recumbent. Muscles of the thighs are most commonly affected." I have seen White Muscle Disease. It looked *nothing* like a cramped-up newborn kid. Additionally, White Muscle Disease typically occurs in kids 3 days to 6 months old, not newborns. Cardiac and tongue muscles are often also involved in true, serious selenium deficiency in kids. If the dam is quite selenium deficient, then you might see stillborn or weak kids with little or no suckle reflex. Keep in mind there are many reasons why a kid might be weak or stillborn.
Selenium is a important trace mineral but is needed in very small amounts. This source goes into detail about selenium's roles. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5666889/. Most commercial feeds and goat minerals contain adequate amounts of selenium. The FDA does regulate selenium content in feed. Some areas in the United States have very selenium deficient soils. Some areas have toxic levels. Check out this map for more information - https://mrdata.usgs.gov/geochem/doc/averages/se/usa.html If your dam is NOT selenium deficient during gestation, it is unlikely the kid will be. If the herd has experienced selenium deficiencies, it can be beneficial to supplement the dam with selenium and Vitmain E in late gestation. In late gestation, the doe transfers some of her selenium stores to the fetus(es). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0921448807000302. It is in this 4-6 week pre-kidding window that it is most beneficial to supplement the doe with selenium. Guess what also contains selenium - GOAT MILK. If your kid IS a little deficient, momma milk will help correct the issue as long as she receiving selenium in her daily diet.
Selenium is an important trace mineral, but it has a very NARROW safety margin. Please be careful dosing newborns - if they need dosed at all. Typically, a daily intake of selenium is desired over an injection. If additional supplementation is needed, an oral form like the gel is safer and more desirable, with the exception of an actual case of White Muscle Disease. "Excretion of injectable selenium supplements is rapid and this route of administration does not provide the even and dependable supply ensured by daily dietary selenium." - Goat Medicine pg. 750. The current recommended daily minimum intake is .1mg/kg dry matter (parts per million) and 1mg/kg is considered the standard diet requirement. The maximum tolerable amount established by the National Research Council as of 2005 was 5mg/kg. One study in 2007, however, suggested that feeding dairy goats .5mg/kg a day was excessive. Read more about this in Goat Medicine by Smith and Sherman, pages 749 and 750. I will not go into great detail on the symptoms of deficiencies and toxicities in this article, but here is an online source with is an excellent article on the subject http://poisonousplants.ansci.cornell.edu/toxicagents/selenium.html?fbclid=IwAR0WeJyS83xYEmiBf-5T6FzlWIADSGA0KZwT0O0jHvqqAiL8Hl_zaK8cJz0 So why are kids born with limbs not quite functioning? In most cases, wonky limbs on newborns are just from being cramped up! Imagine being cramped in a too-small space for weeks or months, especially with siblings fighting you for real estate! It takes a while to un-cramp. Instead of supplements via syringe or paste, gently stretch and massage the limbs. Let the kid play and move and work out the kinks. Assist with nursing, if necessary. Give the kid time and freedom of movement to strengthen its limbs. Have you ever had a broken limb and worn a cast? Wasn't your limb weak after the cast was removed? What made it stronger? MOVEMENT. Not being casted up again. Think physical therapy, not re-casting. This is why I am not a fan of splints for newborns without a sure diagnosis. Splinting can slow progress. In a worst case scenario, an improper splint can cause the loss of a limb. The only time to consider a splint on a non-broken limb, in my opinion, is when the situation has NOT improved even the slightest in 48 hours.
In rare cases when the issues with limbs do not resolve or vastly improve in a week or do get worse, there are some other possibilities: truly contracted tendons, nerve damage, a variety of issues with growth plates, or issues stemming from mineral imbalances (both toxicities and deficiencies) such as rickets and epiphysitis (also called “bent leg” or “windswept limbs.”) Many of these issues are more likely to occur in older kids than in newborns. Most of these issues are infrequent, but definitely possible. Learning about these limb issues can help breeders rule out possibilities - so can a good vet exam.
To recap, selenium is an important trace mineral but has a narrow safety margin. Severe selenium deficiency manifests much differently than a newborn kid that was just cramped up. In the majority of newborns, time and movement corrects the stiff or floppy limbs. On a personal note, I've had several instances of multiples where one or more kids had limbs that were cramped up. A few walked on their tip toes. A few had loose back legs. Most corrected within 48 hours. A few took over a week, but progress was clearly being made. One doeling, a triplet that had been very mis-positioned and required assistance to be born, could not use her back legs at all. I broke her to a bottle and also helped her nurse her dam. Within a couple days, she went from crawling to standing, albeit wobbly. Within a couple of weeks, her limbs were normal and strong. I get the desire to help – I don’t like to see kids with bent or floppy limbs, either – but sometimes the best thing you can do is be patient and supportive.
A fellow Kinder breeder shared this photo of doeling Barker Kinder Gardens America. She was a triplet and a good example of a newborn kid tip-toeing so much she nearly knuckled over in the front. It didn't take long for her to straighten out. Lovely doeling, too!
I wish I had some good photos of the worst cases of wonky newborn limbs that I've had, but I don't. Here's one that had a loose back leg and walked on his front tip-toes. He was a triplet. As you can see, he straightened out just fine. He had no BoSo, no splints.