Caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE) mitigation strategies

Posted on November 30, 2020 in Dairy Goat Performance
By Sarah Adamson

Caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE) is a contagious – and potentially fatal – viral disease in goats.  CAE can be transmitted in several ways.  The most common mode of transmission is through contaminated colostrum or milk from an infected dam/milk donor.  Although less likely, CAE can also be transmitted through saliva and contaminated needles.

CAE symptoms
CAE can be presented in several forms, and each form of CAE has specific symptoms associated with it.

  • CAE arthritis is most common in adult animals.  Common symptoms include:
    • Swollen joints (front knees are the most common)
    • Lameness
    • Stiffness
    • Cracking of the joints
  • CAE encephalitis is most common in kids two to six months old.  Common symptoms include:
    • Blindness
    • Seizures
    • Head tilting
    • Depression
    • Incoordination
    • Circling
    • Incorrect limb placement
    • Lameness
  • Symptoms of CAE chronic wasting include:
    • Weight loss with no changes in appetite
    • Inability to gain weight
  • Symptoms of CAE mastitis in lactating animals include:
    • Hard udders
    • Decreased milk production

Unfortunately, CAE has no specific treatment, but the number of infected animals in your herd can be reduced by following a strict mitigation program.  Most CAE mitigation programs include the practice of pulling kids immediately after birth to prevent them from contacting dirty bedding or allowing the dam to lick them.  They should also include feeding heat-treated colostrum/milk or a colostrum/milk replacer.  If you are treating an animal that is suspected of being infected, it is also good practice to dispose of any needles after they have been used.

Many CAE-positive animals are subclinical and symptom-free, but the disease can have a long incubation period before the animal starts to show progressive and untreatable symptoms.  Symptoms can also be triggered by a stressful life event, such as kidding, transportation or drying off.  These subclinical and symptom-free animals making culling difficult and the disease hard to manage and eradicate.  Decreasing the number of new animals brought into the herd can greatly decrease the chance of spreading any disease, including CAE.  If new animals must be added to the herd, consider adding animals that have tested negative for CAE.

If you choose to test your herd for CAE, keep in mind that each test costs between $6 and $7, and the tests should only be conducted on animals six months of age or older.  Testing animals younger than six months has a higher risk of resulting in false negatives.  Additionally, unless the entire herd tests negative and new animals are never introduced to the herd, there is always a chance of the disease being transmitted.

Creating and practicing a CAE mitigation program can be one of the most impactful ways to decrease the frequency of CAE-infected animals on your farm.  Talk with your Vita Plus nutritionist to learn more about CAE and mitigation programs.

About the author:  Sarah Adamson grew up on her family’s commercial dairy goat farm in southern Wisconsin.  She attended the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and received her bachelor’s degree in animal science, with an emphasis on dairy science.  Adamson spent time as a manager on an 8,000-head dairy goat farm before joining Vita Plus in 2018.  As the Vita Plus dairy goat specialist, Adamson is responsible for product development for the entire dairy goat program as well as technical support for field staff in the Vita Plus market area.

Category: Animal health
Dairy Goat Performance