Saturday, February 14, 2015

Propylene Glycol and Pregnancy Toxemia

Two years ago, when Trixie developed toxemia/ketosis (the terms are used interchangeably, though technically toxemia is before delivery, ketosis is after) about 3 weeks prior to delivery with a triplet pregnancy, I turned to the dairy goat and homesteader forums. I was relatively new to goats and did not know how to treat her, I just new that she was sick.

Before I turned to the forums, I trusted a breeder's advice that "They all slow down and get whiny when they are big pregnant. Do nothing, just watch and wait." Following that advice, I waited a week without doing anything. I have learned the hard way to trust my gut.

Back to the forums. I established that she was suffering from toxemia. She was not able to take in enough calories to support fetal growth so was burning her own body tissues. This lead to a build-up of toxins in her blood which eventually killed the fetuses and nearly killed her.

Most of what I read online recommended propylene glycol as a last resort. I was told that once I started it, she would stop eating. It would shut down her rumen. It is related to anti-freeze. Start with molasses/ corn syrup drenches. Move to dextrose drenches.

When I finally trusted my gut and started treating her, I started with these "more natural" sugar treatments. She stopped eating. All that sugar caused acidosis which killed all the good rumen bugs. I barely managed to save her life and ended up with stillborn triplet doelings at 142 days gestation.
Swollen feet and legs. 

Jump forward to this year. In late fall, I suspected she was carrying triplets again. As she neared the end of her pregnancy, I increased her feed and alfalfa significantly and began watching her like a hawk. I bought some ketone test strips at the pharmacy so I would know what was going on and not just suspect it.

When she refused her breakfast and had swollen feet on a Monday morning about 15 days from her due date, I knew it was time to get busy. I tested her urine and found it contained moderate to high levels of ketones. I immediately drenched her with 30ml of propylene glycol (PG). That evening her ketones were up to high levels. I increased the PG to 50ml. By the next morning, her ketones were down to trace levels.

I had my vet prescribe Dexamethasone, a steroid that will help to develop the kids and will induce labor after about 36 hours. From her previous kiddings, my instincts told me her kids would be fine at about 142 days. It was a balancing act, keeping her strength up and deciding how long she could go and still have the strength to deliver, getting those kids out before her weakened state killed them but waiting long enough that we wouldn't be fighting to keep preemies alive.

I continued with 30ml PG morning and night until she delivered. Her ketones got no higher than trace levels. Through it all, she continued to eat hay and the other creative offerings I brought her (she never really went back on her feed). She liked scratch grains, carrots, apples, lettuce, oatmeal and I fed her what she would eat always being sure that she was not getting so much sugar that we would end up with acidosis of the rumen.

By Friday (day 140) she was weakening and starting to refuse her hay. I knew we could not wait any longer to act, but I also wanted those kids to hang on just a little bit longer. I called Dr. Maxwell at Auburn University and he suggested breaking up the 2ml Dex into two doses, half on Friday, the other half on Saturday to give the kids a boost but delay the start of labor a bit longer.

The Dex perked her back up a bit and she enjoyed lounging in the sun and nibbling hay until she started labor Sunday night (day 142)- my goal from the start.

She delivered perfectly healthy triplets at 2:30am of day 143.

Now let's talk propylene glycol. You can buy it by the gallon at Tractor Supply or find it in products such as NutriDrench. There is a reason it is used in ruminants to treat toxemia/ketosis. These animals rely on good bacteria in their rumens to break down their food. When you drench a ruminant with sugar solutions, their rumen pH goes down killing all good bugs and leading to acidosis. Now your goat is doubly sick.

Propylene glycol will boost blood glucose levels without acidifying the rumen. Additionally, as the liver breaks down propylene glycol, it gives off propionate. Propionate is part of the chemical reactions that turn ketones into glucose and remove acetone from the blood.

With normal blood glucose levels reestablished and toxic acetone removed, appetite returns (at least as much as it is able to with all those babies taking up most the room for food).

In the end, it is up to you to decide how to treat your animal for toxemia/ketosis. I, for one, will go straight for the propylene glycol. 


  1. Thank you for this. I appreciate the information. I keep a large propylene glycol for ketosis for a variety of causes for a variety of species. I am so glad Trixie's triplets got here just fine and that she is well. Best wishes,

  2. I also appreciate this info..Toxemia/ ketosis is also a problem in guinea pigs, and I have never really understood propylene glycol, and have always been a little weirded out by the fact that it is similar to radiator fluid. A lot of breeders use it on their guinea pigs, and I have it on hand for our animals, but have luckily not had to use it other than in the energy drench. Now I won't be so afraid of it.

  3. I'm so glad I read your blog this morning! My doe Lady has seemed sick for over a month. I can tell she is carrying multiples for the first time ever, since she's HUGE! At first I thought she had a copper deficiency. I bought copper bolus's to give her but then I was scared to give them to her because she is pregnant. After further research I realized she has toxemia. She still has 40 days of pregnancy left. I told my husband what I'm supposed to give her if she goes off feed and he said it was antifreeze :/ I did give her a handful of brown sugar one day because she was shivering and that seemed to help. I'm going to get those test strips and check her urine now. I noticed yesterday she seemed better. The weather has warmed up and she's able to drink more water since it's not frozen all the time. So glad you figured this out and shared your info. Trixies pregnancy last year was so sad :( Congratulations on all the babies this year! Do you seperate your does when they deliver? I have Ladys little doeling and feel like we need to build another stall before she kids so the babies won't get stepped on.

    1. I hope this helps! 40 days is a long time to get through, but if you can get ketones under control and keep her eating, it can be done! The trick is to get as many calories as you can in her without acidifying the rumen. A breeder south of here just had a doe deliver quint doelings. There was absolutely no room for food in that case and she had to be in the vet school on IV. Mama and all 5 girls made it. Good luck and keep me posted.

      PS, Yes, I separate the does for kidding and for a day or two until the kids are strong and have bonded with mom.