Caseous Lymphadenitis in Goats
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Caseous Lymphadenitis in Goats

CL, Boils and Abscesses in Goats

Every goat producer eventually is threatened with the possibility of having CLA (Caseous Lymphadenitis) in their goat herd. CLA is possibly one of the most controversial topics in goat management and can be quite frightening.
How to recognize and deal with the dreaded CLA (Caseous Lymphadentitis) in goats. Various articles about this abscess - what is and what is not a typical location for CL Abscess.


Unfortunately every time a goat gets an abscess, the first thing the owner is bombarded with is  lectures on CL (CASEOUS LYMPHADENITIS) caused by Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis ; and the goat owner dealing with this abscess immediately is frightened into culling  the goat. 
There ARE abscesses which are NOT CL!

Read this Before You CULL!

Using Formalin to treat CLA Abscesses 

A Quick review of CL

Also known as "Cheesy Gland"  because of the dryish purulent excudate (pus) 
cheesy excudate from CLA Abscess
which is caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis and typically affects sheep and goats.

It is a highly contagious disease which usually locates itself in the lymph glands but can also be internalized into the lungs and organs.

So, How does a Goat get CL?

The disease is spread through a herd by soil contamination from an external abscess which has burst  and contaminated the environment, then picked up by another animal via mucus membranes or open tissue.. The organisms can live in the soil for extended periods of time- sometimes years, possibly infecting other animals with open wounds or newborn lambs and kids with umbilical cords touching the ground, does and ewes in milk whose teats are exposed by laying on the contaminated soil are a few examples of how the disease may spread .  It is common for the disease to spread within sheep herds and Angora Goat herds via shearing contaminated animals and  not sterilizing shearing equipment between animals.

There are 2 forms of this disease- Superficial (abscesses of lymph nodes) and Visceral (abscesses of internal organs). Visceral abscesses will condemn carcasses of meat animals while the Superficial abscesses will ruin the pelt of the animal.

The Clinical Signs of CL in the Superficial form are visible abscesses just under the skin - usually near the lymph glands: This form is most typical in goats.
Diagram of CL on goats - Common CL abscess sites
These abscesses are typically filled with pus that is a white, yellow, or greenish color and usually has no real odor. It is a dryish exudate (pus) that appears cheesy. If left untreated, the nodule will grow larger until the wall of the nodule thins and it bursts, allowing the bacteria to be released into the environment. It can live years in the right environment- whether it be in the soil, barn floor or feed bins.
"Researchers have shown that the organism is capable of entering the lungs by inhalation and can spread to internal organs by injection into the bloodstream. Studies also show that it can cross the membranes of the digestive tract and vagina, and that a break in the skin is not needed for an animal to become infected." 1

The Clinical Signs of CL in the Visceral form are long term emaciation, coughing, and general poor health. The internal organs most affected are the lungs, kidney and liver- mostly in sheep, but can appear in goats.

Internal CLA Abscess

    NON- CLA Abscesses Diagram:

    Non CLA Abscess sites
    Symptoms of CLA

    • Animal is lagging behind the flock.
    • Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
    • Purulent (Containing, discharging, or causing the production of pus) ocular (eye) and nasal (nose) discharge
    • Enlarged superficial body lymph nodes
    • Generalized disease is associated with weight loss, depression and loss of appetite
    • Caseous abscesses in the superficial lymph nodes and carcass muscle structure
    • Firm and dry abscess in the kidney and other organs. Soft pasty abscess in the early stages changes to firm and dry with a characteristic laminated appearance in the later stages of disease.
    • Abscess content is creamy and pasty in goats
    • Pneumonia




    Pasteurella Abscess excudate is different in appearance and odor than the typical Cheesy CLA Excudate sticky wet excudate from non CLA Abscess Pasteurella abscesses have a foul odor and are wetter and sticky - unlike the dryish cheesy appearance of the CLA excudate (pus)- which has little to no odor.
    Tooth Abscess in goat that "could be" mistaken for a CL Abscess:
    Tooth Abscess




    Salivary Gland Abscess that also could be mistaken for a CL Abscess

    Salivary Gland Abscess

    Food Impaction in Cheek

    Another "facial lump" that may be accidentally thought of as CL is when a goat with either broken or missing back molars gets food (chewed hay) caught in between the cheek and teeth- it will stay there until it is physically removed - and if left it can cause death by way of starvation and water deprivation. I recently was contacted by a distraught goat owner who was worried this lump in her doe was CL - she was devastated, I asked her to send a photo of the goat and lump - the second I saw it I knew it was food caught in the cheek- she went back to the barn, removed the impacted food and took a deep breath of relief. This will more than likely have to be repeated for possibly months - daily until either the missing tooth adjusts or the sharp point of the broken tooth dulls- She gave me permission to use her photos so that it may help others:
    goat will food impacted in cheek - NOT CLA
    Look at the green on the lip- a sign that chewed hay is the culprit. You will need to very carefully insert a finger into the mouth along the cheek and back, the goat will have the tendency to chew- be very careful as those back teeth are as sharp as shards of broken glass- hook the impact with your finger and remove. Photo courtesy of Alisha and her doe Smiley

    Photo diary of NON CLA (Pasteurella) Abscess Removal in pygmy goat


    READ THIS!>>Article on How To Treat CL using Formalin<<

    Where to buy 10% Buffered Formalin: Valley Vet Supply





    Information on the CLA Vaccine Directly from Colorado Serum who manufactors the Vaccine


    CLA in Goats

    Randall J Berrier ,DVM
    Staff Veterinarian
    Technical Service

    Colorado Serum Company often gets a lot of correspondence regarding caseous lymphadenitis (CLA) in goats and questions about using our CLA vaccines (Case-Bac and Caseous D-T) in goats.  There seems to be a lot of interest and misleading information regarding vaccinating goats against CLA.  For more detailed information about CLA, the disease, please refer to our vet's corner from June 2001, (volume 1 - no.4). 

    Caseous lymphadenitis is caused by the bacterial organism Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis.  The two vaccines that Colorado Serum Company makes for CLA are licensed for use in sheep only.  These two vaccines are also the only two commercially available vaccines for combating CLA in the United States.  The vaccine (Case-Bac) is a combination bacterin/toxoid, while Caseous D-T also contains tetanus toxoid and Clostridium perfringens type D toxoid as well. 

    The main reason why Colorado Serum Company did not have a label for usage of these vaccines in goats is safety.  Colorado Serum Company originally tested caseous vaccines in goats and noted varying levels of injection site reactions that went from no reactions to swellings about 14 inches in diameter.  There would be associated lameness post-vaccination that would last anywhere from 1 to 30 days.  All of these reactions would be unacceptable to USDA and therefore Colorado Serum Company never pursued a license in goats.  Since Colorado Serum Company was unhappy with the safety profile of these vaccines in goats, we never pursued any further efficacy testing in goats.  Over the years Colorado Serum Company has also received numerous calls from the field from people who have used this vaccine off label in goats.  A fair percentage of vaccinated goats will develop a fever and become lethargic for a period of days.  These goats will sometimes go off feed or have a reduction of feed intake.  Milking does can have a decrease in milk production.  Vaccinating pregnant animals can increase the risk factors.  As in sheep, vaccinating goats that already have CLA will do absolutely no good and will only make the above-mentioned reactions worse.  So you can see why we cannot recommend vaccinating goats with these vaccines. 

    However, all hope is not lost.  There are other options for goat ranchers.  First of all, I would strongly recommend having any suspect abscesses sampled by a veterinarian and submitted to a veterinary diagnostic lab to confirm if your herd has CLA.  An article by Gezon, Bither, Hanson and Thompson in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 1991; 198:257-263, reported that over a 16 year period Actionmyces pyogenes was cultured 3 times more often than C. pseudotuberculosis in a particular goat herd with an ongoing history of internal and external abscesses.  The point is - not every abscess in goats is CLA!  If you confirm that you do indeed have CLA in your goat herd I would recommend not treating goats that have abscesses and either selling them or isolating them.  Since there is no commercially available vaccine available for goats you may want to consider having an autogenous vaccine made from a sample of one of the abscesses that tested positive for CLA.  Most autogenous products are whole-cell bacterins.  It has been our experience that a bacterin/toxoid provides a much better immune response.  I don't know how much protection goats are going to receive from an autogenous bacterin.  You may want to try an autogenous caseous bacterin in a limited number of goats and determine if it works in your goat herd. 

    Hopefully this helped answer questions about using Colorado Serum Company Case-Bac and Caseous D-T vaccines in goats and why Colorado Serum Company can't recommend it.  Currently, Colorado Serum Company is actively pursuing a safer vaccine for CLA that can be licensed for use in goats.

    This is an old AND Outdated but still popular article written about Goat Abscesses by Phillip Sponenberg

    The Information here is now considered the Old Fashioned way to deal with CLA

    Abscesses - Should You Worry?
    By:  Phillip Sponenberg

    Abscesses are at least annoying, and can be much more than that to goat breeders and owners. Every abscess must be considered as a potential threat to the herd even though some are fairly harmless.

    The reason that abscesses in sheep and goats are important is that many of these are caused by one very specific organism. This disease is called Caseous Lymphadenitis, and the organism causing it is Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis. This disease is frequently abbreviated as CL or CLA.

    The classic course of CL in goats is an abscess in the lymph nodes of head or shoulders. Most of these will be just behind the back of the jaw. They get large, and then rupture with draining of the enclosed pus into the environment. The pus is chock full of organisms, and the environment then becomes contaminated. Usually the pus is thick and pasty, and some breeders insist that they can diagnose this disease on the basis of the pus character. I have seen many of these, and the pus varies from green to white, and from very thick to very watery. I would personally never try to diagnose this on the basis of the type of pus present, for a mis-diagnosis has consequences!

    The organism of CL lasts in most environments up to 5 months. This is a long time, and is one reason this disease is somewhat difficult to get rid of once it is present on a farm.  In addition to its long persistence in the environment, this organism is a very, very specific cause of abscesses. Put another way - most goats that acquire the organism will develop abscesses, so keeping the organism off your farm is a great idea.

    These abscesses are not trivial. For starters they are unsightly and indicate disease in the goat. Added to this is that in some goats the organism will cause internal abscesses in lungs or liver, and these will lead to chronic wasting. These abscesses are also important to meat producers, because they can cause condemnation of the carcass.

    Due to the very specific link of the CL organism and abscesses, it is important in every case of abscesses to determine if this organism is present or not. This diagnosis can come through a few different means. One of this is direct culture of the abscess content. This is the most reliable, and the organism is easy to grow in culture (contact your vet for this). A second method is serology on blood samples, although this is not as accurate as culture. An advantage, though, is that serology can be used on animals that do not have an active abscess.

    If CL is diagnosed in a herd, then the problem quickly becomes what to do about it? For starters, it is at least unethical to sell animals that have CL or are likely to develop it (having originated in an infected herd) without alerting customers that this is a possibility. This is a SERIOUS disease.

    To eliminate the disease and the organism, most breeders simply cull animals as they develop abscesses. This process, depending on numbers and facilities, can take as long as two or three years. Remember, the organism lasts in the environment up to 5 months. Add to that the incubation period  from infection to abscess, which can be close to two years. The usual course of events if culling and elimination is undertaken is that the number of new cases very quickly declines. After the initial case few more occur, and with increasing time, fewer and fewer until finally no new cases ever occur because the organism is eliminated from the farm.

    One of the best strategies for culling is to simply palpate the outside of the goats carefully for lumps about once a month. Pay attention to jaw line, front of shoulder, back of shoulder, front of stifle, and above the back of the udder. That will catch nearly all of them, and can be done quickly.

    A second approach is to blood test all in the herd, and eliminate the positive animals. This is likely to proceed quickly at first, although vigilance is still needed because a few can still develop abscesses. The herd wide blood test should probably be repeated every six months until two consecutive tests reveal everyone to be negative.

    In some situations breeders may choose to live with the disease, although this is problematic if someone is selling breeding stock. In such a situation it is always wise to limit contamination of the premise, so goats with abscesses should be isolated while draining. The abscesses can be lanced, or can spontaneously rupture, and can then be treated with topical iodine solutions. The goat should be isolated in a restricted environment (remember - the environmental contamination is the issue of importance here!) until the abscess is completely healed.

    A second treatment that is occasionally used is surgical removal of the abscess by a veterinarian. This sounds great in theory, but many of these are deep, and many are in the neck - close to things like jugular veins, carotid arteries, and important nerves. Surgery close to those structures is tricky at best!

    A third treatment is more controversial, and involves tapping into the abscess with a syringe, draining pus and then introducing formalin into the cavity. This is technically very illegal, because formalin has no withdrawal period. Even though goats may not be intended for meat, all goats fall under meat quality standards - so use of formalin is illegal.

    A few important issues arise if goats are treated and allowed to stay in the herd. First is that such goats frequently become repeat offenders. That is - they develop abscesses repeatedly, and commonly in different areas of the body. A few may have a single abscess, recover, and never develop another one. But the very real problem for the owner of a goat with a CL abscess is that it is impossible to tell if any individual goat will be the one that heals and never recurs, or the one that has a new abscess (external or internal) every six months from now on.

    A vaccine has been developed for use in sheep, and some breeders have had success with this in goats. Using it might alter the blood test results, but the vaccine has been used effectively to reduce and then eliminate the organism in some infected herds. Remember - all you really have to do is eliminate the abscesses and the shedding to eventually eliminate the disease. So, those who use the vaccine are constantly imparting resistance to the goats, so that fewer and fewer develop abscesses.

    Experiences with the vaccine vary considerably. It is generally safe, but if goats that are already infected are vaccinated then some of them will develop an immense and painful reaction to the vaccine. This usually takes 12 hours or so to develop, and these goats will develop massive swelling, pain, and fever associated with the vaccine site. As a result, some breeders with a CL problem only vaccinate the kids, since they are the least likely to be infected and to come down with the reaction.

    A summary of CL is that:
    1.     It is an important disease
    2.    Anyone selling goats (especially breeding stock) should be free of it.
    3.    Ways to be rid of it vary - but never having it to begin with is the very best way to never have it.
    4.    Culling is usually the quickest way to be rid of it.
    5.    Treatment of abscesses can slow the progression - no CL abscess should be allowed to drain into the environment. This strategy decreases environmental contamination, and therefore new cases.
    6.     Vaccination can decrease the incidence of new cases so that few develop. Over a period of years it can eliminate the organism from the herd, especially if the original offenders are identified and eventually culled or isolated.