Goat Leg Injuries that Sideline Your Caprines
Flystrike, Swollen Joints in Goats, and More
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Ask any goat herder. Goats will find a way to get into trouble. Goat leg injuries from climbing, horns hooked on fences, heads stuck in buckets, and the great escapes, goats will keep us on our toes.
Unfortunately, goats do not have nine lives like their feline barn friends. Goats and injuries are relatively common. Being ready to treat and care for a wound or broken bone helps you relieve the moment’s stress.
Luckily, goats are strong and hardy. Cuts and sprains are more common than actual fractures, and hoof problems do not cause all limping. Learning to examine and treat minor goat leg injuries will make you a better goat keeper.
Wounds, Cuts, and Scrapes
Even in the goat population, some individuals are more dramatic when injured than others. Wounds have varying degrees of severity. Scrapes may be causing some discomfort or irritation, but usually, they are mild goat leg injuries.
To be sure of what you are treating, follow these basic steps to examine an injured leg.
- Secure the injured goat on a stand or use a halter with someone holding him still.
- Isolate the wound area and clip hair away from the scrape or cut. Be sure to use clean scissors.
- Clean the wound with a sterile saline solution. (I use contact lens solution.)
- Next, clean with an antibacterial spray or salve.
- Pat the area dry.
- Proceed with necessary bandaging.
Deep wounds may require sutures and a veterinarian visit. If you are confident in your care of serious wounds, proceed with a bandage. Scrapes that are surface-only do not usually need bandaging.
To bandage a leg injury wound, use sterile gauze, an antibacterial salve, and cohesive vet wrap to secure the gauze. Start the gauze wrap at the bottom of the leg, above the hoof in the pastern area. Wrap securely but do not make it so tight that it constricts blood flow. When the gauze covers the wound and wraps the leg from hoof to knee (hock), overwrap with vet wrap to keep the gauze in place. A deep flesh wound in the flank or inner leg/ groin area may require stitches. Consult your veterinarian for advice.
Inspect the wound daily, even in the case of minor scrapes. Daily observation allows you to treat problems early before the situation worsens. Feel for heat at the wound site, swelling, change in drainage, or pus drainage. If the goat cannot walk as usual, confine him to a stall with hay and water. This allows you to observe him more consistently. Minor scrapes and cuts should not require stall confinement. Check with your veterinarian with any care questions about wound care.
In warm weather, wounds can attract flies. A flystrike condition occurs when flies begin laying eggs on the wound, maggots hatch, and flies make the wound worse by invading the flesh through the wound site. Flystrike can happen quickly. A few short hours of pus, manure, or blood-soaked hair or fleece can attract flies. When the flies are not noticed, and the eggs begin to hatch, fly strike can get bad very quickly.
Fractures are leg injuries that involve a broken bone. These can be simple fractures to more serious, even compound fractures involving a break in the skin. For the most part, my advice is to seek a veterinarian for the care of your animal. However, if that is not possible and the fracture is simple, supporting the break with splints while it heals may be enough to bear weight. I would also err on the side of caution and keep the injured goat on stall rest.
When you observe a goat’s reluctance to get up or walk or is limping, the first step is to restrain the goat. Preferably use a stand that will restrain the goat while you examine the injury. Palpate the leg gently, and examine the hoof. Not all limping is hoof-related, but it’s easy to check for a stone or hoof abnormality.
Examine the hip, hocks, and pasterns for soreness and possible fractures. Heat, tenderness, and swollen joints in goats can all indicate a soft tissue injury or broken bone. Determine if the goat can put weight on the leg and move the joints without pain.
Useful items to have in your first aid kit include baby aspirin for pain and inflammation, splints for goat leg injuries, rolled gauze and gauze compresses, and cohesive bandage for holding dressings in place. Splints can be fashioned from paint stirring sticks cut to size or large tongue depressors. For baby goats, wooden craft sticks may be the correct size for a goat leg injury splint.
Homemade Healing Poultice
Owners can make a poultice for soft tissue injury, shallow wounds, or bone breaks from mashed up comfrey leaves. Adding a comfrey compress or salve to a wound dressing can promote healthy healing. Comfrey is a commonly found herb often referred to as “knit bone.” This amazing herb contains a protein called allantoin that promotes healing in wounds and injured tissue and bones. Comfrey contains large amounts of anti-inflammatory properties. There is a caution to be aware of, though. Comfrey can have some toxicity issues, particularly when taken orally. Never give it to your animals in feed or as a drench as it can result in illness and death. However, as a short-term compress, it is worth the small amount absorbed through the skin and rarely causes toxicity problems.
The comfrey poultice is one of the easiest ways to use it for a wound dressing. You need only a few fresh leaves and a little water in a blender. Use the blender to create a mash-like consistency. Try not to make the poultice too runny, or it will not stick to the dressing and the injured area. You can make a compress from soaking a cloth compress in a comfrey tea, made by brewing comfrey leaves in hot water for a few minutes. If you have more time, you can also make a healing comfrey salve.
Add the poultice mixture to the gauze bandage over the wound, fracture, or soft tissue injury.
Originally published in the 2021 special issue of Goat Journal — Goat Health from Head to Hoof Vol. 2 — and regularly vetted for accuracy.