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CL in Goats | Treatment Plan | All the Facts: Caseous Lymphadenitis

Does your goat have a large abscess that’s draining puss and you don’t know what to do about it? Should you cull your goat? Should you get rid of your entire herd and start over? And where did it even come from and why? This is what we will be talking about today. If your goat has an abscess near their lymph nodes, then most likely you’re dealing with CL in goats or Caseous Lymphadenitis. Here’s what you need to know. 

But first, my name is Delci. I’m the gal who created My Goat Binder. And I love getting these emails:

“I have 2 goats that are pregnant for the first time.  I have done a lot of reading online about what to expect.  Your website is hands down, the best out there!  I wanted to email you and thank you!” 

“i just want to say a big thank you for all the effort you have put into your website and all the helpful info you have on it. Its been a real help to me over the last couple of weeks as i became a new owner of two female year old nubin goats. Ive been through alot of websites and yours was by far the best!!” 

Thanks, Jen and David for those kind words and for taking the time to stop and write it down and actually tell me! My Goat Binder is the ultimate needed health management tool for your goats. If you haven’t picked one up yet, do that now. It will be delivered right to your door. It is so important to get this for many reasons but also because…I’ve just added a bonus to this binder (along with ALL the other bonuses) a treatment plan for CL. All you’d have to do is print it out and get it in your binder to be ready to consult at any moment. If you’ve already bought the binder, don’t forget to log in and download this new bonus. You will want to keep really good records of abscess cases and My Goat Binder will allow you to do just that.

CL and abscesses in goats are scary. This is the information you need!

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If you like this information, my YouTube channel is full of even more goat information. Please click this link: Delci | A Life of Heritage and subscribe!

You can also click this link to watch this information on YouTube: CL in Goats Video on YouTube AND CL Treatment Plan for Goats on YouTube

Now back to the original subject. Although I personally have not had to deal with CL, thankfully, I began to do a lot of research about it and talked to my vet, whom I trust completely and who has really good knowledge about goats. My recent focus on this started when I recently got an email with the following question:

If the mama goat who tested positive (through a swabbed abscess) is removed from her kids (who were definitely exposed to it) but they have no symptoms, do you know anyone who has controlled it with good nutrition and supplements? Would it be better to start over with a clean herd? I have heard the blood test is often unreliable. Just wondering how you or anyone you know has dealt with this. 

This is such a good question. And it’s an important question if you and your goats are dealing with this situation. It’s a sad fact that we just sometimes have to deal with serious health issues with our goats. And sometimes when we are faced with these problems, there aren’t any easy decisions to make once we know what we’re dealing with. 

Before we dive into what should be done about CL, let’s talk about what it is. And also, if you’d love to read this information as well, the link to this same information will be provided below. 

CL is an abbreviation for Caseous lymphadenitis.

CL is the term used for when the Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis bacteria enters into your goat through a lesion in the skin or through coming in contact with the pus from an abscess that has ruptured on another goat. Now, when the bacteria enter through the skin, it could be for any number of reasons. Maybe you just sheared your goats or your goats were head butting and got a scrape or they could have even just punctured or scratched their neck on a fence. Goats are known for getting into things and they can get cut or get a small scrape in any number of ways. 

But we all want to raise goats in CL-free environments and we want to buy goats that are from CL-free herds, right? Keeping a closed herd makes sense when we want to keep our herds as disease-free as possible. And when a new goat is brought home, it is very important to keep them away from your goats in a separate area for a couple of weeks to see if any signs of disease or any sickness present themselves.

You can do everything right. And still, get CL. 

What do you need to know about CL?

This bacteria is in the world around us. We would probably all be surprised at how prevalent this little bacteria is. And the honest truth is that a dumb little buzzing fly can land on a goat with CL far from your property and then head on over to your property and land on a little scratch on your goat and infect them with this bacteria. 

As the Tennessee Meat Goat page says, “CL is a fact of life in goats (and sheep). If you don’t have it yet, you will have it.” ~Source  

And sadly, as of now, it is not considered curable.

This bacteria can also affect cows, horses, and sheep. It’s called pigeon fever when a horse contracts this same pathogen. 

So you have a goat with an abscess, and you’re wondering if it’s CL. Where do the abscesses of CL appear? 

When your goat is infected with CL, they will have abscesses appearing in one of these places, which are all near lymph nodes.

  • Around the ears
  • Under the jaw
  • In the neck area
  • In the flank area
  • Behind the back leg above the hock
  • And there may be other swellings around the face in the cheeks, under the jaw, and in the throatlatch area. 

If you want to know for sure if you are dealing with CL in your herd, this is what you can do. 

If your goat has an abscess that has burst, then you will be able to know for sure if it is CL just by visually looking at it. You will see:

  • Pus that is cheesy looking and has the consistency of toothpaste. It will be very thick. 
  • The pus will be yellowish/white in color. 
  • And it will be very infectious looking. 

You can also test for CL. The most accurate way to test is to test the actual pus from the abscess. Just keep in mind that the test can be inaccurate. Don’t test a goat under 8 months of age. And understand that “false negatives” can happen when a goat is showing no visible signs of infection but actually do have CL. 

Can CL in goats be “hidden from view” or not evident?

The CL bacteria enters your goat through a small opening in the skin and many times it produces lesions and puss pockets that are gross and visible to the eye. But the scary thing is that sometimes, in some goats these lesions only present themselves internally. Meaning, your goat begins to fail but you can’t see what’s happening or why. 

Thankfully, the internal CL is more common in sheep and the external CL is more common in goats. Well, thankfully, in the this-is-awful-but-at-least-we-aren’t-guessing-at-what-this-is way. 

If you have a goat with these symptoms but can’t seem to figure out what’s going on, it could be CL. With internal lesions, you will see these symptoms:

  • chronic weight loss
  • failure to thrive
  • chronic ill thrift with a cough
  • pussy nasal discharge
  • fever
  • abnormal rapid breathing
  • increased lung sounds

Your ability to know each of your goats by your daily observations will greatly benefit you and them because you will be able to see and hear the differences in your goat’s health. 

This goat is looking really sick and will need a lot of attention to revive and restore.

Other goat health issues you may deal with:

Goat Pneumonia: Goat Pneumonia Article or Goat Pneumonia Video

Goat Bloat: Goat Bloat Article or Goat Bloat Video

Goat Pregnancy Toxemia: Pregnancy Toxemia Article or Pregnancy Toxemia Video

You also may have a goat that you know has been exposed to CL and you’re wondering how long it will take to see visible effects from it.

If the bacteria did enter into the goat, it can take months for the abscesses to actually appear. Your goats have this really cool ability, through their lymph system, to filter the bacteria out of their body. So their body actually pushes it into a thick-walled encapsulated abscess. This way it can’t harm the goat. These abscesses actually aren’t attached to the goat’s body, but to the backside of their skin.

In a really gross, cool way, it’s neat that a goat’s system has the ability to try to purge such a dangerous bacteria from their body. 

Where in the world is CL most common?

Although this is a worldwide problem and this bacteria can infect your goats anywhere you live, it can be more prevalent in the southwestern United States and in Australia and Brazil. And there may be higher outbreaks during the season where the biting insects are present more. 

You may be sitting back in your chair right now realizing that indeed, you do have a case of CL on your hands. Gosh, darn it, now what? How will you control this disease?

You may have heard or read many people saying at this point, “cull! cull! cull!”

But it’s not as easy as that. CL is an environmental pathogen that has somehow made its way onto your property and now into your herd. The problem? It’s on your property and it’s hard to get rid of.  

So, let’s play this scenario out. You have a goat with oozing abscesses, and the abscess has oozed around in the barn, on the feeder, and in their main area outside. Now all of that area is infected. But you decide to cull her and your entire herd because they’ve all been exposed. And you find a new sweet set of goats and bring them home. A fresh start. You can start over and begin again, right? Well, then those goats get a scratch and man, now what? You now have two new goats that were quite pricey and very good quality and now they are presenting with abscesses as well. And the process starts over again. 

That’s not a very happy scenario but it’s a likely one. 

If you want to try to kill this bacteria on your property, there are a few things that you can try. Lime has been said to kill pathogens and bacteria in an area. And if you were to till up and somehow expose the ground to the sun and then sprinkle with lime, it may be effective. But depending on the size of your area, it may be really hard to get the soil all turned over and exposed to the sun. And it would be really hard to know for sure and certain that it was actually all taken care of and killed off. 

CL can live in the soil for 6 months in the soil and area and possibly even up to two years.  

This goat has an abscess on its neck

What about “positive” and “false positive” and “false negative” CL tests?

A lot has been mentioned so far, but we really need to keep talking about all of this, so stick with me. You don’t want to test any of your goats under the age of 8 months. And you can get a false negative on a goat that has CL but is showing no signs yet. Remember what I said that it could take several months for the abscesses to actually appear? Well, if you tested your goats before the abscesses appear, the test could say, “nope, this goat doesn’t have CL”, when they actually do. 

And after talking to my vet, I realized that some goats can come into contact with CL, create immunity against it, and won’t be affected by it ever again. While some goats are just going to be susceptible to it and will always keep having reoccurrences. 

We’re going to talk about vaccines in just a bit, but while we’re talking about the testing, I wanted to mention that if you vaccinate your goats with the CL vaccine, they will test positive. But we’ll get into more of that in a bit. 

When we are talking about positives and negatives and false negatives, what we are really saying is this: if you get a blood test taken from your goat and it comes back positive, it means that your goat has antibodies to this disease. It does not mean that your goat has it, is a carrier of it, or is shedding the bacteria or infected with the organism. 

If your goat has encountered this organism in the past, either naturally or by vaccinating, their immune system raised a response against it. And your little kids can actually get passive antibodies from their mothers as well! 

It’s really important to note that a “positive” goat might never have clinical signs of CL in its entire life and therefore, this goat is not contagious to other goats. 

Antibiotics do not work on CL. Do not use this as a treatment plan for CL in goats

Next, I wanted to talk a bit about what is NOT an effective treatment for CL?

Antibiotics are not effective in treating these bacteria. This is a sad truth but it’s because the pus is actually inside a “tough fibrous capsule” and medicine can’t penetrate inside that wall to kill it. This means that you need to decide how you are going to handle this problem. 

You have several ways that you can treat and handle CL. These are those options. 

One avenue that you can take is to cull the affected goat.

If you do this, you will need to make sure that you aren’t sending an oozing goat to the sale barn because remember, oozing means spreading infection. Or you could put the goat down. 

You could also completely cull your entire herd.

Then you would do a complete and insane (but necessary) cleaning of your entire goat barn, pen, feeders, water troughs, ground, fencing, everything to try to kill the bacteria, maybe even wait a few years, and then start again with a new herd. 

You can also take each infected goat, quarantine them, and chose to drain the abscess.

Just know that this requires the goat to be completely isolated until she is completely healed which can be a full month. And when the abscess is opened up, the bacteria is contaminating that environment and there is a potential transmission to you or anyone working with the goat.

If you do go this route, wear protective clothing and gloves, and then do not use that clothing around the other goats. If you chose this route, you must do it at the precise right time and under the perfect conditions. If you do it at the wrong time, you can either:

  • Cut too soon. The knot will not be ready to drain the correct fluid. There will be no pus and will be a very hard to contain liquid that drains out. 
  • Wait too long. If you wait too long, it actually will burst on its own and then will be contaminating everything and everyone nearby.
  • But if you do this at the perfect time. The knot will just be starting to become soft but it needs to be immediately before the hair starts to come off. And for each goat, it will be different.  So you will be isolating goats and waiting for the “right and perfect” time to drain the abscess. 

If you have the extra funds available and a willing vet, you can also have the abscesses surgically removed.

This requires the goat to be put under anesthesia but it does keep the bacteria inside the abscess and doesn’t spread it into the environment. 

A sick goat can be given formalin to help with CL abscesses in goats

You can also choose to use formalin. 

Now, I want to talk about something that I have no personal experience with but I find it very intriguing. And honestly, it would be something that I would try if my goats ever came down with this disease. This procedure comes from the Tennessee Meat Goat site and she has done this with a lot of effectiveness and actually recommends this option instead of culling every animal with CL. She mentions that it can get downright expensive to be culling your best animals instead of just treating the animals in this way. I’m going to leave a link below, so you can read this information as well. 

First I want to remind you that I’m not a vet and the usage of formalin is not FDA-approved. 

At the very beginning of this video, I mentioned that these abscesses are encapsulated. They have a very thick wall around the pus, which is actually isolating the infected material from the rest of the goat’s body. This is the key to using formalin to fight CL.

First, you will need to gather your supplies. A Luer-lock syringe is needed so that the needle doesn’t slip off the syringe, you will also need a 25-gauge needle, disposable gloves, paper towels, eye goggles, and someone strong to hold the goat and probably your very helpful and willing vet. 

Formalin has the consistency of water, so it runs out of needles very easily, that’s why the smaller needle is used. 

When you are set to start the procedure you will inject the formalin into the top of the abscess, straight down, as close to the goat’s body as possible but making very sure to stay inside the walls of the abscess. You will want to avoid veins, arteries, and nerve endings because formalin is dangerous outside of this walled-off abscess. 

You will use 1/2 cc formalin for a knot that is about a nickel size or smaller. And you will use 1-3 cc’s for larger knots. If you use too much there will be some tissue swelling around the injection site. 

When you remove the needle you will want to hold that paper towel over the injection site to stop the fluid from running out. 

If the knot has not hardened in a couple of days, you may have to inject a bit more. If you do have to reinject be careful that the formalin doesn’t blowback at you because of the partially hardened knot you are sticking the needle into.  But if enough was put inside the abscess, within a couple of days the knot will become embalmed. The formalin ended up mixed with the pus and hardened.

You may have the hardest time with a chest abscess. You will have to use several cc’s over a period of several days to make sure that it is completely saturated with formalin. 

You don’t want to get formalin in your eyes or on your skin. If you do, flush with water but this was an interesting fact I learned in my research, formalin was used as a fresh-milk preservative in the early 1900s, and generations of Americans consumed it. So, don’t think you are going to be on death’s bed if you get some on you. 

After the knot has become hard and embalmed, after 4-6 weeks, the abscesses just start to shrivel and dry up. And will actually start to peel off. And the embalmed knot that you find laying on the ground shouldn’t be infected if everything was done properly! 

What makes this treatment so intriguing is that there is no exposure of the bacteria to the environment. You don’t have to care for an isolated and healing goat for months on end and that means less stress on you. 

Now, I understand that this may not be for everyone and there probably will be some who really oppose this idea. But man, I’d rather save my goat, give them a remaining healthy life, and also not be spreading this disease around my property. 

So truly, we all need to decide for ourselves, our goats, and our environment what is the best solution for each situation. Study and study some more and then make your decision. 

Before we end this video I want to talk about one last thing. 

You can give your goats a CL vaccine that will help your goats not get CL. This will also help not spread the disease.

There is a CL vaccine available for your goats and is a control option for CL.

I’ll leave a link below for the vaccine. It’s important to know that when you give the vaccine, you are giving your goats a “killed” version of the bacteria which causes your goat’s immune system to be tricked into thinking that it’s being attacked and therefore it creates a response and builds immunity to the actual real bacteria. If your goat is healthy and has a good immune system, then they will create antibodies and hopefully then is safe if they ever come in contact with the bacteria. 

But after you give the vaccine, your goats will test positive for CL. But I’ve already covered what testing positive means for your goats. And it’s important to know that no vaccine is 100% effective. And some goats just aren’t as good at utilizing the benefits that a vaccine provides either. But they are less likely to develop CL if they have been vaccinated.

Your goat might also get an injection site knot. It will be firm and not soft and usually resolves itself over time. It’s the body’s immune response to the vaccine. But don’t inject any formalin into these knots.

You will give 1 cc of this vaccine with an 18 gauge needle and SQ (under the skin) at the neck. There will be two shots, to begin with. The first shot will be on one side of the neck and when you give the booster shot it will be on the other side. The label on the vaccine will say to give the booster 2 weeks apart but it is less stress on the goat, will cause less of a reaction, and will work just as effectively if you give it 4 weeks apart. And then you will give the vaccine one time per year after that. 

I just want to remind you again that I’m not a vet, I’m just a gal who loves goats and wants to help you raise them with as much health and vigor as possible! With anything that I’ve mentioned you need to do your due diligence and study this out and then make up your mind on how you will treat and control this disease. 

If you made it this far, you get extra points. Extra goat points. In fact, why don’t you just go ahead and get another goat like you’ve been wanting to? And since your goat herd is growing you’ll need to be keeping extra diligent records. Don’t forget to get My Goat Binder to call your very own. 

If you’d like to watch more: CL Information, CL and Abscess, Formalin, CL Vaccine


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Tuesday 5th of September 2023

Hi, so much for your article, but now that the CL vaccine is not available for Goats anymore. What do we do for the rest of our herd if we find a goat with CL? I really really do not want to get rid of my babies and start over. I have a goat who has a very small lump on her neck. Do I wait for it to get bigger and then inject it was formaline? Once I’ve injected it, can I let her be with the rest of her or does she have to be separated indefinitely? How much and I hope that I can save my girl!

Delci Plouffe

Wednesday 29th of November 2023

If you can get a sample of the puss from the abscess and get it to your vet for testing, that would be the best way to know if it is actually CL. The only time that it is infectious is when the access is draining. If the CL doesn't get into other parts of the body internally and make them ill and living a difficult life, they can live a most likely more normal life. Sometimes, they can get an abscess and then never get one again. Others will have more reoccurring issues. But really, your first step is confirming if it actually is CL.

Jewel Dirks

Thursday 6th of May 2021

Be cautious with the vaccine. It can be lethal to vaccine a goat that has CL but hasn’t shown symptoms yet. So if you have a herd that’s already living in a CL exposed environment, this is no longer sn option.

Delci Plouffe

Thursday 10th of June 2021

Thanks for sharing!

Jane Kierson

Tuesday 22nd of December 2020

We unfortunately have come up with CL talked to my vet she’s all about trying the formalin has used. It for other things wish us luck

Delci Plouffe

Sunday 27th of December 2020

I would love it if you kept me updated on how this goes! I wish you all the best! And I'm truly sorry that this came up for you and your goats.