Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis in Goats

by Baxendall S
16 Oct 2018

Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis or CAE has no treatment and no vaccine. It is now called the Small Ruminant Lentivirus by researchers.  While mainly found in dairy goats, it has spread into meat and fibre goats in the USA.

CAE is a slow virus with clinical signs taking years to develop and also has asymptomatic carriers.  Signs generally don’t occur until virus number build up within an individual goat and the herd. Herds can look normal until they “crash” with goats developing clinical signs in their first lactation.

Goat owners in Australia should contact their veterinarian to test for it. If it is present, we need to aim to eradicate it. If not, there are many things that can be done to improve biosecurity to keep it out of the goat herd.

We need to do this because:

  • CAE causes debilitating arthritis and wasting. More rarely, nervous disease, pneumonia or mastitis. There is no treatment except for pain relief for arthritis, and there are strong animal welfare reasons for eradication.
  • CAE could jump species into sheep and possibly cause Maedi-Visna, and thereby eliminating Australia’s Maedi-Visna free status.
  • CAE is in the same family of viruses like HIV/AIDS.  Children overseas given raw goats milk from CAE positive goats developed antibodies to CAE.  Consumers could become concerned about the presence of this virus in goats’ milk and other goat products.  The New Zealand Dairy Goat Cooperative has given their suppliers a date by which they must have eradicated CAE from their herds to continue supplying milk.
  • Globally CAE is being eradicated in some countries such as Norway or reduced to very low levels e.g. the UK and Switzerland. Unfortunately, it is also being spread into underdeveloped countries such as Malaysia and Brazil with the importation of mainly dairy goats. The Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines only requires one negative test on the animal being exported, rather than coming from a tested negative herd.
  • Australia runs the risk of being overtaken as an exporter of quality goats if it cannot guarantee freedom from CAE.
  • Levels of CAE are low in Australia’s meat and fibre goats and serological surveys done in feral goats in the 1970s and 1980s showed no positives.  CAE in dairy and miniature goats is a risk to these larger goat industries.

New South Wales, Queensland, and Tasmania have government-run CAE accreditation schemes and South Australia has a dairy goat breeder organisation scheme.  The rules of these schemes have kept herds free of CAE for over 30 years.

CAE is only notifiable in Victoria but should be notifiable in all states so progress towards eradication can be documented. CAE needs to be reported to the OIE annually, and if notifiable in all states, this report can have accurate figures.

As is mentioned in the AVA policy, CAE and EBL are very similar lentiviruses and the dairy goat industry needs to do as the dairy cattle industry has done and voluntarily eradicate it.  This will need government support due to a large number of pet goat owners involved who should not be allowed to continue to spread this virus by selling carriers to new unsuspecting owners.

Photos displaying CAE affected goat courtesy of Sandra Baxendall.

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