Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis (CAE) is caused by a pathogenic virus. The virus can be tested for with a simple $4 blood test. The virus can be prevented from spreading by separating newborn kids from infected moms, feeding the kids heat-treated or cow colostrum, and then bottle feeding them pasteurized milk until weaning. It’s cheap and it’s simple to test and prevent CAE so why do many goat owners allow their goats to live untested and allow them to continue to spread the virus?
The first reason is most people do not know what CAE is. They are new to goats or haven’t heard about the virus. Many meat goat growers do not know about CAE because due to its subclinical nature, it does not cause economic losses in the meat goat industry and thus can be ignored. The dairy goat industry pays more attention to CAE because dairy goats typically live longer than meat goats and the chances of showing clinical symptoms of CAE are increased with age. Most pet goat owners or hobby farmers do not know about CAE because they haven’t been educated about it.
The second reason people ignore CAE is because there are a lot of myths about what it truly is. Any time you post a question about CAE on an internet goat forum you will get a barrage of BS by people who insist that CAE isn’t a big deal or that it doesn’t need to be prevented or that it doesn’t exist.
A third reason is CAE is a very subclinical disease. One statistic I have read is that 70-80% of the goats in the world carry the virus; 10% of those goats will die from it. A 10% fatality rate is pretty low when compared to other more deadly diseases. CAE is an immune deficiency virus. It operates much like HIV. Many people carry HIV but do not have AIDS. The same is true for goats. Many goats carry the CAE virus but do not die from it. Does the low fatality rate of CAE make it okay for goats to live untested and able to spread the virus? Does the fact that not all cases of HIV turn into AIDS make it okay for more people to become infected? Sounds pretty ridiculous when you consider it that way.
The fourth reason is that people simply say “My goats look healthy, so they must BE healthy”. Again, because CAE is highly subclinical, people do not associate goats that “look” healthy with goats actually carrying a pathogenic virus and spreading it. I was of this camp for a long time. I assumed that since my dairy goats looked healthy, had kids and gave milk normally, and didn’t have any symptoms commonly associated with CAE, that the MUST be healthy. Well, I was terribly wrong. When I finally tested my herd for CAE, every single goat was positive! I have seen this happen time and time again to people who test their herds for the first time. They assume their goats will be uninfected, only to find out that most, if not all, of the goats are actually infected.
A final reason people ignore CAE is that the classic, documented CAE symptoms are similar to symptoms caused by other goat diseases. CAE can cause arthritis in the front knees, but not all arthritis is because of CAE. I have seen goats with cracking knees and other arthritic symptoms that tested negative for the virus. CAE can cause sudden encephalitis and death in kids. Well, so can most other fatal kid diseases. CAE can cause hard udders at freshening. This can also be caused by mastitis and udder edema. Of course, I wonder if the actual number of CAE positive goats who succumb to the virus is actually a lot higher than 10% because of symptom/causal confusion. Many goat owners do not have post mortem examinations or necropsies performed on their goats so there is rarely confirmation of cause of death beyond the owner looking at the symptoms and drawing a straight line to the most logical cause. Also arthritis and hard udders aren’t typically fatal. They can both be mitigated and the goat can live just fine. Thus people don’t always take the next step from symptom treatment to looking for the cause, which is often the CAE virus.
Bottom line – CAE is a disease that can cause illness in goats. Your goat may not die from CAE but your goat’s health may be impacted dramatically. Why would anyone spend time, energy and money caring for their goats, only to have them be potentially sick from an easy to test for and easy to prevent viral pathogen??? It is not acceptable to pretend that CAE is not a big deal and that CAE infection status does not need to be documented in every goat.
Please test your goats for CAE and please take the necessary precautions to stop its spread.