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How Do Goats Get Listeria? Common Causes and What To Look For

Goats have a long history of domestication and rank as one of the world’s most important types of livestock. While humans have successfully raised goats for centuries, these small ruminants are still susceptible to naturally occurring diseases that can decimate a herd. Of these, listeria is one of the most serious and deadly.

Listeria refers to the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes and listeriosis is the disease it causes. Goats contract listeriosis through environmental conditions like contaminated feed and unsanitary living conditions and the bacteria can enter their bodies through inhalation, swallowing, or their eyes.

Goats are a vital food resource as millions of people around the globe depend on them for dairy and meat production. Whether raised on open pastures or in large commercial facilities, goats must rely on human intervention to control outbreaks and treat occurrences. Here are the essentials of listeria in goats and the best methods for treatment and prevention.

How Do Goats Get Listeria?

Listeria monocytogenes is a type of bacteria, and unfortunately, it is very resilient. Listeria can be found in a number of places such as soil, food and water sources, and living quarters.

As far as livestock outbreaks are concerned, listeriosis likely originates from animal or bird sources outside of the herd and is then transmitted to goats.

Specific sources of listeria can include rotting hay, contaminated bedding, fecal matter in areas frequented by goats, and urine and other excretions from infected animals.

One of the biggest challenges in dealing with this bacterium is the fact that under the right circumstances, it can linger and survive for five years and beyond.

As far as how the listeria bacterium enters a goat’s body, there are three primary ways (source):

  • Through swallowing, such as eating contaminated feed or drinking adulterated water
  • Through inhalation, such as dust or particulates containing the bacteria (commonly through dried feces)
  • Transmission through the eyes

Although listeriosis is not an uncommon problem year-round and in a broad geographical area, it is particularly of concern in colder climate zones and during the cooler months of the year.

In addition, there is a higher prevalence of listeriosis in intensive management scenarios (i.e., large indoor commercial operations).

Here’s a video showing what Listeria in goats might look like:

How Do You Prevent Goats From Getting Listeria?

Listeria can cause three major forms of sickness in goats: encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), blood poisoning, and aborted pregnancies. The consequences of listeriosis can range from serious to fatal so it is imperative that proper precautions be taken to prevent an outbreak from occurring.

Because listeriosis is a bacterial disease, prevention strategies should be aimed at eliminating the conditions that promote its growth and making the goats’ environment as inhospitable for listeria as possible.

Recommended practices include:

  • Eradicate mold growth in feed and water troughs through frequent and thorough cleanings
  • Keep stalls and heavily frequented areas clean and sanitary
  • Do not allow goats’ feed to become wet, fermented, or moldy
  • Keep goats away from soil that is overly alkaline (i.e., has a high pH) as listeria can thrive in such conditions
  • Wild birds can be carriers of listeria and the bacteria can be transmitted via their droppings so do not allow them to gather in or around goats’ feeding and watering areas

Normal disinfecting measures can effectively kill listeria but the challenge is maintaining sanitary conditions throughout the year. In the event that a listeriosis outbreak occurs, it is imperative to immediately isolate all suspected cases and cut off all paths of transmission, including the goats’ milk and excretions.

Goats are happier when they have things to play with. Look through these Goat Toys on Amazon for inventive feeders and large balls or toys for your goats.

How Long Does Listeria Last in Goats?

Generally speaking, healthy goats should be resistant to listeriosis. It is the weak and immunocompromised portion of a goat herd population that will be vulnerable to becoming infected by listeria and developing a serious illness. Sadly, certain acute cases of listeriosis in goats, such as encephalitis, can run their course in as little as 24-48 hours with death being the expected result.

The most common symptoms of encephalitis in goats are:

  • High fever
  • Blindness
  • Lethargy and loss of appetite
  • Partial paralysis that is exhibited by a drooping eyelid or ear and limpness of half of the mouth
  • Walking around in circles (in one direction)

Unfortunately, by the time these symptoms are observed, there is little hope of recovery and death is likely to ensue within a day or two. Therefore, immediate isolation is crucial in order to protect the unaffected animals.

Is Listeriosis Common in Goats?

Because listeria is present in a number of wild animals and can be spread in so many ways (for instance, in bird and mammal droppings), it is virtually impossible to create and maintain a 100% bacteria-free environment for goats.

Listeriosis is therefore a continuing threat that must be dealt with by livestock farmers raising goats, particularly those operating in colder climates. Intensive management facilities must be even more vigilant against listeria outbreaks given the number of goats cohabitating in tight, close quarters.

Is There a Vaccine for Listeria in Goats?

While research is continuing (there have been trials conducted in Europe involving live vaccines), there is no approved vaccine against listeria for goats in the United States. There are treatment regimens that have been documented to save infected goats that are afflicted with encephalitis, although such instances are rare.

The recommended protocol for treating goats with listeriosis includes:

  • Early detection and immediate treatment with antibiotics
  • Aggressive dosing of penicillin is necessary to cross the blood-brain barrier (for treating encephalitis cases)
  • In addition, anti-inflammatory drugs such as dexamethasone must also be administered to help reduce the swelling of an infected goat’s brain stem

In addition to treating the serious symptoms of listeriosis, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that in their weakened condition, goats will not be able to look after themselves (in fact, blindness is a common indicator of the disease. Supportive care such as supplementing feed with extra nutrients is vital to a full recovery.


One of the harsh realities of raising goats, whether on a homestead or through a commercial operation, is the ever-present specter of disease. Among the most serious health threats to goats is listeriosis which can often lead to death.

While the threat of a listeriosis outbreak cannot be completely eliminated, it can be managed. Given the consequences, maintaining proper sanitation and adhering to recommended protocols for the storage of feed, is imperative for maintaining the health and well-being of the herd.

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