13 Goat Symptoms You Should NEVER Ignore
Pay attention to normal goat temperature and more...
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Learning to notice goat symptoms is a science and an art. The science part comes to things that are quantitative, such as normal goat temperature. Other things come more into an art such as your favorite doe just giving you a look that isn’t normal for her. Those that learn to read goat symptoms will be able to catch things early, when the task of turning them back around to wellness is more likely to succeed with less time and resources than goat symptoms that are missed or not caught for several hours. Here are some common things that I watch for when I go out to my herd.
If I notice a goat that is “off feed” or picking at their hay or grain, I start running questions through my head. Did she consume something toxic or get bit or stung? Is there a fever indicating infection or illness or is she hypothermic? Is something broken or bruised or causing pain? Is it metabolic such as pregnancy toxemia or ketosis?
A goat that is “off” will often show other goat symptoms. Is he moping around or lying down with his head and ears low? Is he not interested in life around him? Is he crying or unusually silent? This is a great time to take some vitals. If you contact your veterinarian, having vitals to give them will often speed up getting a diagnosis.
Normal goat temperature generally ranges from about 101.5 to 103.5 degrees F. Younger animals and hot days will tend toward the upper end of that range, whilst mature animals and cold days will tend toward the lower part of the range. If it’s a hot or hot/humid fall day and I have a doeling that gives me a goat temperature of 101.5, I’ll definitely be thinking hypothermic! In the same way, a mature goat that temps at 103 or 103.5 in the dead of winter is going to have me thinking fever (unless they were just playing or bouncing around), even though both of these are within the “acceptable range” as far as science goes. Of course, temperatures out of that range get my immediate attention. Other vitals to note are caprine heartrates being approximately 70-90 beats per minute and respirations (rise and fall of the ribs for a cycle of breathing) is 10-30 per minute for mature stock and 20-40 per minute for young stock.
Another goat symptom that has me on immediate alert is finding a goat hunched over or arched at the loin/lower back area. This indication of pain could be a stomachache from ingesting something toxic, or an ulcer (uncommon), it could be a kidney issue, a lower back injury or a bladder infection or urinary calculi, among other goat illnesses. The arched back indicates pain to that lower region. If you are not confident at sleuthing through goat symptoms, it is always okay to hire your veterinarian. Your observation skills will grow as you get more time “under your belt”
Diarrhea is never to be ignored. Several but not all sources of this could be disease, feeding milk replacers, coccidia or other parasites, bacteria, quick feed changes, or overeating on something causing acidosis or enterotoxemia. Getting into something toxic to the goat, including moldy feeds, also causes the runs. Diarrhea that is ignored will frequently give you a dead goat. Before calling for help, noting color and consistency, blood, or no blood will give important information.
Bloat often goes with diarrhea and some of its causes. Bloat can also come on when a ruminant is lying on its side for too long. Bloat of the rumen is another emergency not to get to “later.” Later may be too late.
Hack, hack, hack. There are dry coughs which can often be allergies, dust inhalation, or chronic leftover problems from having an illness or parasite-induced wet cough. Often but not always, there will also be a running nose with this issue. Lungs tend to be the weakest link in our goats, so I don’t like hearing them cough. Wild weather or outdoor temperature fluctuations, a goat getting really wet or not having protection from the wind, or stress from being transported makes them more susceptible to pneumonia in goats and other types of problems. Of course, they can pick up bacterial and viral lung issues from exhibitions as well. Take the vitals, try and figure out why they are having their problem, keep them warm if they have a fever, and support those lungs. I actually put my ear on the rib cage and listen. Only heart sounds should be heard. One should NEVER hear lung noises, which need immediate support.
Goats that are itchy or missing hair need to be checked for external parasites such as mites, fleas, or goat lice. Also, pay attention to skin damage that may make your caprine susceptible to a skin infection. Goats that are missing hair on the bridge of the nose and/or the end of the tail, giving a forked tail appearance, and in advanced situations also hair loss to the ears, often will be a copper deficiency. Loss of hair coat color also often falls in this category. Copper deficiencies ignored will negatively impact your herd’s immunity.
Other goat symptoms that one shouldn’t neglect are limping, bleeding, swollen joints, stiff joints, mastitis, swollen tissue or abscesses, and bottle jaw. Bottle jaw is a swelling under the lower jaw that is often indicative of a severe life-threatening parasite overload. Mastitis is an infection of the mammary gland with varying symptoms from simple unevenness to hot, or swollen, or even black or blue-looking tissue to milking clots, strings, or blood. Always get help in the above situations unless you are very confident in working with them.
Though not conclusive, this list will give you a great start on things to watch out with your beloved goaties.
Wishing you many happy and healthy goats!
Originally published in the September/October 2019 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.