How to Recognize Signs of Illness in Your Goats

Goats are creatures of habit. You can learn these habits and use them to identify illness simply by observing your goats a couple of times each day. Besides, it's a good excuse to spend time with your goats.

Some goats always stay with the herd, while others tend to go it alone or hang out with just one buddy. When a social goat isolates itself or a loner goat suddenly gets into the middle of the herd and starts fighting a lot, you have a clue that something might be wrong.

A change in eating habits gives you another clear sign. Goats exhibit only minor variations in eating — some are always pigs while others eat more slowly or have to fight or be sneaky to get their share. When a goat stops eating and drinking, you know it isn't feeling well. On the other hand, when a goat starts eating a lot, it's pretty obvious that the goat is feeling great!

Here are some other signs that a goat might be sick:

  • Not ruminating: Cud-chewing (called rumination) is a part of how goats digest their food. Healthy goats ruminate after they eat. When a goat stops ruminating, it's a sign that the digestive system is upset.

  • Walking difficulty: A limp indicates a possible injury or a hoof or knee problem, while staggering alerts you to a possible neurological problem.

  • Teeth-grinding or head-pressing: Both of these are signs that the goat is in pain and you need to investigate further.

  • Changes in breathing: Some health problems can cause fast or labored breathing, while others cause the goat to breathe more slowly. Extreme heat can also cause labored breathing in a healthy goat.

  • Cough, runny nose, or runny eyes: A healthy goat usually has no cough, a moist nose, and dry eyes.

  • Abnormal poop: Goats normally have firm, brownish, pelleted poop. Changes in consistency or color may signal a health problem.

Whenever you find a clue that something might be wrong with a goat, you need to examine that goat to see whether it has any other symptoms, take its temperature, and try to determine whether a problem is developing.

If you have time, do the following before your vet visit and write it all down:

  • Take the goat's temperature

  • Check its gums for color

  • Listen for heart rate and ruminations

  • Note whether the goat has

    • Injuries

    • Crusty eyes

    • Breathing problems or coughing

    • Diarrhea

  • Check for dehydration by pinching the skin on the neck in front of the shoulder, using your thumb and forefinger. Note whether the skin snaps back to its normal position quickly or stays in a tent before it slowly goes back to normal. A slow return to normal indicates that the goat is dehydrated.

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