Treating Polio & Listeriosis in Goats

Polio (Polioencephalomalacia) and Listeriosis (also referred to as “Listeria”) are two, unfortunately, highly common neurological illnesses in goats. Often when we hear about one, we hear about the other, because they appear very similarly. So much so that many people just refer to the issue as “polio/listeriosis.” When they treat for one, they also treat for the other. But there is actually a big distinction between these two illnesses, and I want to discuss that before getting into the treatment(s). While these issues can be treated simultaneously to confirm you cover all your bases, it is important to understand each illness individually. I feel that these two diseases, but especially Listeriosis, are highly misunderstood in the goat veterinary community. Actually, Listeriosis has one of the worst treatment prognoses according to many veterinarians and establishments.  According to NC State Extension Publications, “There are no effective treatments for small ruminants, and they usually die after infection. Large doses of penicillin may help in some cases.” As mentioned in the Merck Veterinary Manual, “death may occur 24–48 hours after onset of clinical signs; however, the recovery rate can be up to 30% with prompt, aggressive treatment.” While this may sound like a glimpse of hope, a 30% recovery rate is quite a grim outlook in my opinion. Both of these statements do not sound very helpful, in fact, they sound quite distressing! While Listeriosis is a serious disease, my special approach as an emergency consultant has had a very high success rate in treating it. I rarely lose an emergency goat client to Listeriosis OR Polio.

Let’s discuss Polio first. What is Polio?

Polio in goats is not the same thing as Polio in humans. Polio in goats is an acute Thiamine (Vitamin B1) deficiency. The rumen produces Thiamine naturally, however, deficiency of Thiamine, and therefore Polio, can still occur randomly. Some possible causes for Polio are:

  • An “off rumen.” Diet changes, improper feeding, other illnesses, and any digestive issues can throw the rumen off. If the rumen is off and not producing B vitamins, Polio can occur.
  • Thiamine disruptors. Certain medications, namely the coccidia medication “CoRid” have been known to cause Thiamine deficiency. Frequent exposure to antagonists to Thiamine, such as Sulfur, can also lead to Polio.

While these are two likely causes, Polio can appear seemingly randomly, or “idiopathic” in nature.

Next, what is Listeriosis?

Listeriosis is a disease caused by Listeria bacteria. This bacteria normally finds its way into goats’ bodies through moldy hay or feed. Listeria can be also be contracted through contaminated soil, as well as old hoses harboring the bacteria.

Now, to discuss symptoms…

The symptoms of Polio and Listeriosis can appear quite similar as both involve neurological symptoms. The neurological symptoms can vary and be interchangeable…though there are a few classic differentiating symptoms between the two. Here is a Venn diagram of my observations (after treating many, many cases of both). Please do not expect each case to always look the same, and don’t discount an issue if one symptom does not match. These are just general observations! Always treat for both disorders unless you are consulting with someone knowledgeable enough on the topic to guide you to only treat for one! We will get into treatment in a moment.

Treating Polio and Listeriosis:

The treatments for both are different, but again, I do recommend treating for them together to be extra cautious.

My treatments for these issues are based on seeing them at a frequency most veterinarians and goat producers may never see. Consulting as a mentor for emergencies worldwide has allowed me to refine my efforts in treating these conditions.


Treatment for Polio is the dosage of high concentrations of Vitamin B1: Thiamine. Injectable Thiamine MUST be used as opposed to oral dosing. The dosage that I recommend for the best prognosis of this illness is a minimum of 500mg Thiamine SubQ every 4 hours round the clock. Round the clock means no matter what, even at night. Thiamine is a vet prescription med. Thus, many people don’t have access to it. For most of the cases that I treat, I use Fortified Vitamin B Complex Injectable. This contains thiamine. However, the concentration of thiamine is less than 500 mg/ml. This is not a problem, you just need to adjust the dose for that. The one I like to use contains 100 mg/ml thiamine – which means you need to dose 5ml to get the minimum of 500mg. I like to ensure the minimum of 500mg is reached no matter the goat’s weight. However, in larger goats you can up the dose even further. If the goat is over 100lbs, I recommend adding one extra cc for every 20lbs. If your B Complex has an even lower concentration of thiamine, you will need to extrapolate the dose to reach the 500mg minimum (i.e., a 50 mg/ml strength solution will need 10cc to reach 500mg). Improvement is often noted quite quickly after intervention. Do not be fooled by this improvement and stop treatment. Treatment must be continued at least 24 hours after ALL symptoms are gone. However, after some improvements are shown, you can switch from every 4 hours to every 6 hours. After a few days, if still on the upswing, you can begin to expand the time in between treatments even more. However, I recommend going for at least a one week minimum of dosing Vitamin B at least twice daily, even if the goat makes a full, fast recovery.

Goat Mentor EXTRA’s:

Make sure to dose cayenne hourly at the beginning of treatment, and then a few times per day as the goat improves. To dose cayenne, combine with raw organic honey and rub on the goat’s gums. Cayenne has readily absorbed B vitamins in it, and will also support your goat’s body in many more ways.

Dexamethasone or Banamine can be added to reduce the brain swelling and pain from Polio for a quicker recovery. DO NOT use both, choose only one. The decision between the two depends on the goat (i.e., do not use Banamine if the goat is having trouble with temp going lower-than-normal; do not use Dex if the goat is pregnant or is a young kid, and so on according to the safety precautions for each drug).

See note for supportive care with Listeriosis, as it will apply to Polio as well.


Despite the fact that Listeriosis is reportedly susceptible to multiple types of antibiotics, I truly believe that currently the only antibiotic that will effectively treat Listeriosis is Penicillin. Many vets believe that oxytetracycline treats Polio, though I have seen it fail multiple times. I even once observed a vet dose both oxytetracycline AND penicillin—which is not a good idea as those two antibiotics should not be combined (leads to ineffectiveness). Stick to Penicillin. However, you are not going to be using it how you normally would! Dose Penicillin at a rate of 1cc per 10lbs, every 4 hours round the clock. Only switch to every 6 hours after significant improvements have been made. Many recommend dosing it IM, which is acceptable. However, I find it to be just as effective and possibly even more so when dosed SubQ. I have not seen it work effectively when given IV (intravenously). Additionally, a medication for the brain swelling is extremely helpful. As said above, Dexamethasone OR Banamine could be used—but not both. Usually I choose Banamine (used at 1cc per 100lbs SubQ) because Listeriosis presents with a high fever, and I want the fever reduction effects from the Banamine as well. Similar to Polio, continue treatment until 24 hours after all symptoms are gone (but never stop sooner than a 5-7 day course of penicillin, that is a required minimum no matter what). Listeriosis will not improve as quickly as Polio will. Some goats go 10-14 days before really making improvements. Don’t give up!

Now for the Goat Mentor EXTRA’S that I believe change treatment prognoses:

Add garlic! I always make sure my Listeriosis ‘patients’ get at least 3-4 cloves of garlic per day of treatment.

It’s all about supportive care. You can read however many vet manuals you’d like, or take your goat to the best vet there is, but not many (probably not ANY) are going to understand that supportive measures, not just the forefront treatment, are just as important. Not only should you dose your goat with cayenne as said above for Polio—which is always vital and makes a huge difference, but supporting your goat by keeping them fed and hydrated is very important. I like to use a combination of goat electrolytes and dark beer. I know beer may sound a bit funny, but I truly believe it is vital for listeriosis treatment as it provides hydration, calories, and rumen support via natural microbes. Not only can you start to drench these two for hydration, but it is best to make a complete slurry for support. This is priceless, and helps in cases of both Listeriosis and Polio, but I find it extra necessary for Listeriosis as goats do not make very quick turnarounds. Treatment may need to be continued for a while, leaving the goat weak in need of support and nutrients. To add more nutrients, make a smoothie with dark beer, electrolytes, soaked hay pellets and/or dark leafy greens like kale and romaine lettuce, applesauce, mashed banana, pumpkin puree, honey or molasses, carrot, celery, and make sure to add extra cayenne and raw garlic to this as well. Feed carefully with a drenching syringe, or a turkey baster if it is quite thick! Add Dyne High Calorie Liquid drenches for long-term support that is needed with the long treatment plan for Listeriosis.

Both of these illnesses are extremely difficult to watch occur. They can be devastating. I think it is really important to mention the toll it will take on an owner as well. Not only is seeing your goat in this state emotionally painful, but the frequency of treatments is grueling. Round-the-clock treatments are never easy, nor is injecting your goat multiple times a day. Try to switch up the sides you inject on and the injection locations. Use 20 gauge needles for non-antibiotic meds that are thinner (18 gauge for antibiotics). Remember that if you are dealing with this, you are not alone. As an emergency care mentor and a general goat care consultant, people come to me for help with these kinds of situations—but I want to make note that support from talking to someone is vital as well. Even if you feel confident in your treatment regimen, don’t hesitate to reach out for that support to talk through what you are doing, have someone to update with good or bad news, and to get guidance.

Lastly, please SHARE this post! The goat community of farmers, owners, big-time producers, and even veterinarians should know the treatment approaches for these diseases that work time and time again. Help me to change the poor prognoses these diseases have been labeled with. Help me to redefine goat care, one step at a time!

DISCLAIMER: I am not a vet, nor am I a licensed professional. I am in no way a “goat expert” and my opinions are only that of personal experiences, and my insights shared are not medical treatment suggestions, care suggestions, or any directions for raising goats at all. I am simply sharing my own personal opinions. Any and all changes to your goats’ health regimen, care, etc. should be approved by a veterinary professional or licensed professional. I also believe that every goat owner has their own way of doing things, so just as my opinions are my own, and cannot apply to anyone else, your opinions are also regarding your individual goats, and I welcome you to share them in a kind, constructive manner. Disclosure: This post may contain Amazon Affiliate Links, from which I will earn a commission. 

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