Goat Health and Sheep Health: Identifying and Treating Urinary Stones

A goat health and sheep health expert offers his advice on urinary stones.

| December 1998/January 1999


Urolithiasis, or urinary stones, is a devastating, often fatal, and all-too-common disease affecting sheep. It is also largely preventable.


Goat health and sheep health are central to my veterinary practice, and consequently I get many calls every year at my clinic from owners whose ruminant animals have urinary stones. The initial complaints range from "my goat's not acting right" to "my goat's constipated" to "my goat can't urinate." I find these animals in various conditions, from almost normal to severely ill and unable to stand. Occasionally, they are near death by the time I am called.

If left untreated, urinary stones may eventually cause a complete blockage, and the goat or sheep will suffer (and perhaps succumb to) urine poisoning. But with a change in feed, you may safeguard your animals against this potentially deadly affliction.

How Stones Form

We see the formation of stones in ruminants fed high-grain diets or diets rich in plants containing oxalates, estrogens, and silica. Alfalfa hay is an example of a plant that contains silica, which is why we generally recommend decreasing the amount of alfalfa fed to goats and sheep.

Feeds that are high in magnesium, phosphorous, and calcium can also pose problems. Although these minerals are an important part of a ruminant's diet, they can also contribute to crystal formation if fed in excess.

The pH of urine is another extremely important factor. Alkaline, or high, pH favors stone formation, while an acidic, or low, pH urine helps to prevent solutes from forming. This information will be helpful later on when we discuss treatment and prevention.

The final ingredient necessary for crystal formation is a nidus — some object in the urine that can serve as the center or pit of the stone. The most common nidus in urine are cells that are shed from the bladder wall or urethra as a result of normal bladder regeneration, urinary tract infections, vitamin-A deficiencies, or high-estrogen feeds.

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