Causes of Hair Loss in Goats

Identify the different reasons for goat skin conditions

Causes of Hair Loss in Goats

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Hair loss in goats can be unnerving. Reasons for a goat losing hair can fall into several categories. Knowing some relevant facts may make identification less tedious and frustrating.  

Parasites

All goats have some level of parasitic activity. Hair loss from external parasites often appears as patches of missing hair accompanied by scabs, redness, and skin roughness. Bare areas occurring on different sections of a goat’s body are often characteristic of a specific parasite. This can help diagnose; nevertheless, it takes a bit of sleuthing to discover which parasite creates the goat’s skin problems. 

Mites are tiny arachnids requiring microscopic examination of a skin scraping or plug for identification. Mites can cause miserable goat mange: scabbing, itching, hair loss, and anemia. Two differing groups of mites infest goats: those that burrow under the skin and those that remain on the skin’s surface.  

The two most relevant burrowing mites are Sarcoptes scabiei var caprae and Demodex caprae. The sarcoptic mite burrows under the skin, making tunnels and forming lesions that leak fluid, causing scabs, dry and scaly skin, and hair loss. These mites can spread to all parts of the body. The demodectic mite causes hair follicle blockages, which begin as scabs under and skin and eventually break through to the surface. Nodules appear on the goat’s face, muzzle, and neck, but can spread to the shoulders, flanks, udder, and undersides. Goat hair loss can be extensive. This demodectic mite often affects kids, pregnant goats, and dairy goats. 

Surface-feeding mites, Psoroptes cuniculi and Chorioptes bovis, live entirely on the skin’s surface. The psoriatic ear mite forms crusts in and around the ear, causing a foul odor, biting, scratching, loss of balance, spasmodic contractions of neck muscles, and hair loss. It is the main culprit for a goat losing hair on ears. 

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Sulfur-based ointment, Nu-Stock, helps heal a bare spot.

The chorioptic scab mite (C. bovis) is another common cause of mange in goats. Lesions often begin at the base of the tail, legs, and feet, spreading to the undersides and other body areas.  

Another external parasite is goat lice, a wingless insect that creates excessive itching and chronic dermatitis with scratching, rubbing, biting, and hair loss. Lice can be seen on the goat’s body and can spread rapidly due to their short life cycle. Two groups of lice infect goats: biting lice and sucking lice. Biting lice (Bovicola crassipes) and Bovicola limbata, (recently renamed “Damalinea”)are the major biting lice.   

Sucking lice cause bleeding, scabbing, and scaling. Two species of sucking lice, Linognathus stenosis and Linognathus africanus, are relevant for hair loss. Linognathus stenosis can be found over the entire goat’s body, and Linognathus africanus prefer the neck and head areas, but if left untreated, will invade the whole body. In either case, goats scratch nearly continuously, causing distress, raw areas, and major hair loss.   

Goats are more vulnerable to parasitic invasion when also facing improper nutrition, lowered immunity systems, and crowding, which increases susceptibility. High energy diet and proper spacing are effective preventatives.  

Bacteria, Viruses, and Fungi

Bacterial infections can follow parasitic activity since any break in the goat’s sebaceous skin covering invites bacteria to enter, set up housekeeping, and cause goat skin conditions. Most bacteria are already present on the goat or in the environment, so any break in the skin will become an invitation to enter.  

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Staphylococcus aureus can cause lesions when goats lie down on wet ground. Teat healed with povidone-iodine over the course of one week
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Staphylococcus aureus can cause lesions when goats lie down on wet ground. Teat healed with povidone-iodine over the course of one week.

One bacterium causing hair loss, Dermatophilus congolensis, has characteristics similar to a fungus. It can form extensive colonies of filament-like branches, resulting in crustiness and exudates at the hair base. The skin may become a brown or tan color, along with crusting, making the hair break or pull away easily. Scabs occur on the edges of ears, face, muzzle, and tail and are often associated with prolonged wetting from weather, dipping, or tag punching. When the skin is wet, zoospores are released and spread to non-infected sites. The resulting lesions are not always itchy and may not affect the general health of the goat. This bacterium can spontaneously recur up to three weeks following the initial infection. A simple control measure is to supply shelters from wet weather. 

Another bacterium, Staphylococcus aureus, can invade the goat’s skin causing staphylococcal dermatitis — lesions, scaling, and hair loss. This results from inflammation of hair follicles and is highly resistant to treatment. This infection is easily mistaken for ringworm.   

Sometimes viruses can combine with bacteria, leading to ulcers and scabs, causing ulcerative dermatitis (or posthitis) and hair loss. Lesions can occur in female and male animals and affect the penis, sheath, vulva, legs, and lips. 

Fungal infections, such as ringworm, invade dead skin and hair fibers and are contracted from infected areas, especially after prolonged periods of wet weather or goats housed in damp quarters. This goat skin disease appears as itchy, crusty, circular raised lesions. Loss of hair is due to breakage and breakdown of the hair shaft. 

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Random bare patches from ringworm are easily treatable with an antifungal spray.

Goat Nutritional Deficiencies and Stress

Nutritional deficits can cause hair loss in goats. Mineral deficiency shows up as rough, flaky skin, scruffiness, balding tail tips, and hair loss, opening the door to infestations of bacteria and other parasites. Forage with supplements may not suffice without analysis of specific mineral content in local plants and water supply. Deficiencies that lead to hair loss are not enough copper, zinc, selenium, iodine, and vitamin A. Zinc deficiency commonly presents with a goat losing hair on nose areas. Lack of iodine may present itself as hair loss, especially in young goats. An overabundance of selenium can cause hair loss, and if vitamin A is too low, the skin may become thick, dry, and scaly resulting in hair loss on the head, neck, flanks, perineal area, and lower limbs. 

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Goats losing hair on noses often indicate a zinc deficiency. This Saanen doe, low in zinc due to limited winter feed, corrected with an additional zinc supplement added to her loose minerals.

Another possible cause of hair loss is stress (physical or psychological) or hormonal imbalance. This can occur from separation from the herd, an illness, kidding, nursing, or dietary issues. Hair loss, in these circumstances, usually occurs on the back and shoulders. Hormone stressors, such as irregular thyroid or adrenal function, can also cause hair loss. 

Shedding can be recognized by the absence of skin dryness, flakiness, scabs, or itching. Shedding involves either the outer coat or the undercoat, or both. Hair lost from shedding varies. In spring, shedding can be inconspicuous and slow, with several shedding periods depending on weather temperatures and sunlight exposure, time of year, sexual cycle, or hormonal disruptions. Periods of drought, illness, and lactation can also cause shedding.  

As mentioned, there are many causes of goat hair loss. To decide and analyze what is best for your goat, contact the local veterinarian for further information, discussion, and treatment. 

Resources:  

  • msdvetmanual.com 
  • goatbiology.com
  • the goatspot.net 
  • Sciencedirect.com 
  • infovets.com 
  • merckvetmanual.com 
  • farmhealthonline.com

Originally published in the 2021 special issue of Goat Journal — Goat Health from Head to Hoof Vol. 2 — and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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