Animals suffer many of the same ailments that people do—including mastitis, a painful infection of the mammary glands. When Spring, a 12-year-old Nubian goat, began acting lethargic, lost her appetite and appeared to have a swollen udder this past May, the Sillis family grew concerned. Spring had been part of the family since she was born and raised on their property as part of daughter Claire’s 4H project.

Claire and her mother, Alice, tried their best to alleviate Spring’s symptoms, but to no avail. They brought her into the Large Animal Clinic at the UC Davis veterinary hospital where she was seen by Drs. Callum Donnelley and Ailbhe King, residents in training under Dr. Meera Heller, chief of the Livestock Medicine Service.

Laboratory tests confirmed that Spring was suffering from a case of mastitis which can cause fever, lethargy and lack of appetite along with pain. Her veterinary team prescribed antibiotics and milking out the mammary gland with a recheck in a week.

Milking a goat with painful udders is easier said than done, however, with her owners reporting it nearly impossible “because she was a pistol.” After a week in the hospital for milking out and intramammary antibiotics, Spring was cleared to return home. Unfortunately, by the end of June, she returned to the hospital with a recurrent infection.

Even when dairy goats have retired from milk production, it’s not uncommon for them to spontaneously produce milk and have a chronic issue with mastitis, Dr. Heller explained.

“Inappropriate lactation, as we call it, is usually fairly benign,” she said. “In some cases, though, the recurrence of infection can lead to a clinical decision to remove the mammary glands through a mastectomy.”

Dr. Heller said the procedure is not uncommon at UC Davis as they see a good number of pet and geriatric goats, or valuable dairy goats with good genetics that are still prized as breeding stock, even if they can no longer produce milk.

While a mastectomy can be a little scary for students and residents to learn, it’s not a difficult procedure with good knowledge of the goat’s anatomy, she said.

“It’s a good surgery for both residents and students and can even be done in the field in general practice,” Dr. Heller said. “This is part of learning how to manage mastitis which is an important component of production animal medicine.”

Spring has made a full recovery and is back to enjoying life in Amador County with her goat companion and human family.

“We’re so grateful to have her returned to health from a very serious condition that could have become septic and ended her life,” Alice said. “We were impressed with the team approach of involving students and residents in her care and comforted knowing she was in excellent hands.”

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