Lice, Mites, Fleas, and Ticks
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Goats are like any other farm species for fleas, ticks, mites, and lice — they have ‘em. And just like most other creatures, infestation with one or more of these external parasites poses both a health risk to the herd and financial risk for the owner. So, what’s a goat owner to do? Gather some info, find a good vet, and develop a plan.
For most people, the word “lice” sends shivers down the spine. Yet, these tiny parasites are quite common in goats, particularly those who are undernourished, in poor health, and/or living in poor or crowded conditions. Sale barn livestock is also commonly infested, taking these nasties along for the ride to their new home, ready to infest the accepting herd. To make matters worse, infestations tend to build during the colder months — spring, fall, and winter — when animals are already stressed from kidding, internal parasite buildup, and the cold, wet weather.
Suspect lice in goats with dull coats, matted fur, and constant itching and scratching. To locate lice, separate portions of fur along the irritated areas. Lice are large enough to be seen with the naked eye and will be seen crawling among the hair shafts. Nits will be attached to hair strands, sometimes creating a matted, swirly look. Left untreated, sores, wounds, anemia, and death may occur while the lice infestation spreads to the rest of the herd. When treating lice, repeat the treatment within two weeks to address any eggs that hatched.
Mites are no better than lice for any animal, causing what many refer to as “mange.” Several mite species readily infest goats from head to tail, with typical locations depending on the species. Infestations typically present with skin lesions, red, irritated skin, pustules, dry, flaky hair, and visibly thick, crusty skin with hair loss. Obvious itching occurs with attempts at relief, causing further wounds and irritation.
A good way to determine if mites are the culprit is to take the affected material (crusty skin flakes/debris from edges of lesions) and place the material on a black background. Oftentimes, tiny mites will be visible crawling on the material. However, be aware that proper diagnosis is necessary for treatment, with some forms of mange being reportable; it’s always best to consult with your veterinarian when any form of mange is suspected.
Fleas and Ticks
Fleas and ticks are thorns in the side of many a cat and dog owner. However, goats are susceptible to fleas and ticks as well. The cat flea is the most common flea to infest goats, causing itching and scratching over any area of the goat’s body. The aptly named sticktight flea, however, infests the head primarily around the face and ears with clumps of fleas becoming so large they look like black, crusty clumps when left untreated.
As for ticks, most ticks that bother goats will also happily hitch a ride on other livestock such as horses and donkeys and cats and dogs. And just like when biting other hosts, both flea and tick bites can harbor disease that is transmissible to other goats in the herd and can transmit to humans. Left untreated, anemia, reduced production, secondary infections, and death may occur. So don’t mistake fleas and ticks as minor pests.
It bears repeating that regardless of which parasite is the culprit, livestock drop weight, become anemic, experience reduced milk production, with wounds, secondary infections, and even death occurring in severe cases or when left untreated. To prevent parasite spread and preserve the affected animal’s health, immediately deal with infestations via isolation/quarantine and an insecticide application. Change bedding regularly along with applications of premise spray, 7 Dust, or other parasite control such as diatomaceous earth to destroy any parasites living within the bedding area.
Fleas, ticks, lice, and mites are annoying at best and devastating at their worst. So do your research, check with your vet and develop an attack plan. Your goats will thank you for it.
Unfortunately, many treatments for lice and other external parasites are not labeled for use in goats and as such must be used off-label, preferably in conjunction with a vet’s guidance. Because while it isn’t technically illegal to use most of these medications off-label, some states do regulate which off-label uses are allowed for food animals or animals producing food products for human consumption.
As such, many vets hesitate to guide livestock owners in off-label usage, making a solid relationship with your local vet a must. If no vet is available, do research and get to know reputable livestock owners and goat experts who have healthy goats and have been down the road of caprine parasites successfully themselves.
Two online groups that have been invaluable to our farm (we don’t have vets specializing in dairy goats around here) are The Goat Emergency Team on Facebook and the American Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control (ACSRPC) at www.wormx.info. Both offer up-to-date information, potential treatments, dosages, and management practices. These are just two groups who focus on caprine health and are invaluable sources for all things caprine health related.
Here’s a short, but incomplete, list of treatments to discuss with your vet. For detailed instructions on the use of each, visit The Goat Emergency Team’s file by Kathy Collier Bates at facebook.com/notes/goat-emergency-team/fleas-lice-mites-ringworm/2795061353867313/ or www.wormx.info. Be aware, however, these are just suggestions and research on your own in conjunction with your vet’s guidance are strongly recommended.
Note: Most products that kill flies also kill fleas.
Lime Sulphur Dip (off-label)
Kitten and puppy flea powder (off-label/for young kids/may not kill ticks)
Python Dust (approved for lactating/non-lactating goats)
Ultra Boss (approved for lactating/non-lactating goats)
Nustock (approved for goats/may not treat fleas and ticks)
Originally published in the September/October 2022 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.