Scrapie may not be a problem in the goat industry yet, but goat owners should be wary.
“When it comes to scrapie, it’s not just about what happens to me or my farm or the goat industry,” Kerry O’Donnell, chair of the Canadian National Goat Federation Scrapie committee, told attendees at the recent Canadian Meat Goat Association conference.
“It becomes everyone’s problem.”
Scrapie is a fatal, degenerative disease of the nervous system that affects both goats and sheep.
“It’s in the same family as BSE in cattle and chronic wasting disease in deer,” said O’Donnell.
She was quick to mention the impact of BSE, and the fact that Canadian breeding stock, semen or embryos are still not allowed to enter the U.S. There is a similar tough stance against scrapie and many countries are working to eradicate it, including the U.S., which has set a target date of 2017, said O’Donnell. Other countries are considering a mandate for a scrapie-free status and markets such as the U.K. and the EU have begun aggressive testing programs. At present, Canada does not have a scrapie program for goats.
The first positive case of scrapie was found in sheep in 1938, and it has been a reportable disease in this country since 1945. Two Canadian goats have tested positive for the disease, one in 1975 and one in 2007.
But spotting the disease isn’t easy. Symptoms vary and don’t usually show up until an animal is two to five years old. Some infected animals have tremors, appear unco-ordinated or have trouble walking, while others show behavioural changes, such as aggression or apprehension. They may also seem to be in poor health, fail to thrive, or lose weight.
“One thing that’s confusing is that these signs and symptoms could be signs or symptoms of a hundred other things,” said O’Donnell.
There are no live tests as scrapie can only be confirmed by post-mortem of the brain stem. Even though the disease affects both sheep and goats, there are differences in the way it is handled. Sheep can be genotyped for the disease, while goats cannot.
Sampling for scrapie has been much more stringent in sheep than in goats, said O’Donnell.
“The samples in the sheep side are much larger than they are in the goat side because sheep have national ID in place,” she said.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has a scrapie surveillance program and urges producers to test any goat or sheep over the age of 12 months that dies on the farm. Canada has a voluntary certification process that allows producers to claim scrapie-free status for their flock. The program is run through Scrapie Canada and details can be found at www.scrapiecanada.ca.
Agriculture Canada and the goat and sheep industries have begun a three-year study to study the prevalence of scrapie in goat and sheep herds to help design and develop an eradication plan.