False Pregnancy in Goats
Pregnant goat behavior can be the result of hydrometra.
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False pregnancy in goats, also called pseudopregnancy or hydrometra, is surprisingly common.
December was the wrong month to receive random goat vulva pics. With all the does due in March, I didn’t expect my husband to send a closeup shot while working in the goat pen. The accompanying text said: “This is a lot of goop. It’s not goop season, is it?”
Disclaimer: You know you’re a goat owner when you receive random goat vulva pics from pretty much anyone. Especially your husband.
I set my Zoom status as “Away” and went outside to inspect.
Yep. It was more goop than estrus but way less than actual parturition. The discharge resembled the long rope of mucus that happens just before kidding, but about ¼ of the volume. Was she aborting? But the discharge was colorless, not blood-red or even the amber tint of pre-kidding mucus.
Quesa was pregnant … wasn’t she?
I had the due date written down. When she went into heat, we introduced her to the buck, but she only acted moderately interested despite his ardent courtship. We left her for a few hours then moved her back with the other does. Oh well, I thought. We can try again when she goes back into heat. But she never did. Since that’s the very first sign of pregnancy, and usually a sure sign at that, I kept the due date as written.
Quesa underwent a pseudopregnancy, and the “goop” was a cloudburst from the condition resolving.
The Merck Veterinary Manual offers a great summary of false pregnancy in goats. With some heavy-duty terms like anestrus and luteal regression, it’s a lot to digest for first-timers. But the gist of it is this:
A doe goes into heat. Maybe she was bred, maybe she wasn’t. Maybe she conceived but the embryo didn’t survive long. Either way, she failed to “reset.” So her body keeps acting like it’s pregnant, but with no kid(s).
Luteal regression is when the corpus luteum, the clump of ovarian cells that produce pregnancy progesterone, degrades. This triggers menstruation in humans and restarts the estrous cycle in goats. With a pseudopregnancy, the corpus luteum doesn’t degrade. It keeps producing that progesterone, even though there is no fetus. The goat undergoes pregnancy symptoms, including visible swelling as the uterus fills with fluid and an enlarged udder due to the hormones. Because of the progesterone, a urine goat pregnancy test may present positive for pregnancy, and blood tests also might, but with considerably lower levels of glycoprotein. The doe even exhibits pregnant goat behavior. Then, usually around her due date (but in Quesa’s case, two months in), the condition resolves with a “cloudburst” of fluid and mucus.
Also called hydrometra, false pregnancy in goats occurs more often in older does than younger ones. It’s also associated with using hormones to manipulate estrus, breeding out of season, and waiting until after the first or second estrus cycle to breed. It can happen whether or not the doe is “in season.” Fertility returns to an acceptable rate afterward, so false pregnancy in goats doesn’t lower breeding value. And so far, studies have not proven a genetic predisposition: there is no evidence to suggest Quesa’s daughters will also experience this.
Quesa went back into heat within a week of her cloudburst. We decided not to rebreed her, since I wanted all kiddings to happen within the same general timeframe. And, I had enough pregnant does this year.
Is there harm in allowing a pseudopregnancy to continue? The biggest risk is if you need kids from the doe that season. If so, and you suspect pseudopregnancy, contact a veterinarian to get an ultrasound at 30-70 days after breeding, while there is still time to resolve the condition with prostaglandin F2α (Lutalyse for goats) and breed the doe again. The ultrasound will show dark pockets but no embryo/fetus. Does go back into heat two to three days after receiving treatment, though sometimes they need two injections.
This was a new experience for me, as so far, each doe introduced to a buck during estrus had produced at least one kid. Now “false pregnancy in goats” enters my book of knowledge. And I can more easily recognize it if it happens again.
Originally published in the 2021 special issue of Goat Journal — Goat Health from Head to Hoof Vol. 2 — and regularly vetted for accuracy.