Listen Up! The Lowdown on Goat Mites
Ear mites are common external parasites in goats that require strict control.
Reading Time: 4 minutes
by Jodi Helmer
When a goat rubs its ears, shakes its head or shows signs of crusting in the ears, ear mites could be to blame — and if one goat has ear mites, chances are good most, if not all, of the herd is infested with goat mites.
Ear mites in goats are common, fast-spreading parasites that can infest 80-90% of a herd, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual, and goats can have hundreds of mites in a single ear. Infestations are most common in colder months but climate change might be making the problem worse: Research shows that a warming planet is increasing the numbers of vector-borne pests, including mites, and contributing to their spread; warmer conditions might also make it easier to goats and other livestock to transmit disease.
Both burrowing and non-burrowing mites can infest goats. Scarcoptes scabei (scarcoptic mange mites) and other burrowing mites start in hairless (or almost hairless) areas of the body such as the face and ears and burrow into the skin, causing crusty patches and hair loss; non-burrowing mites such as Psoroptes cuniculi (psoroptic mange mites) latch on to hairy areas of the body and wriggle up to the ears, leaving crusty patches of hair loss along their route.
Understanding Goat Mites
Some goats will show no signs of infestation but, for most goats, ear mites will make cause discomfort. You might notice goats rubbing their ears or shaking their heads to control the itch, and those unusual behaviors might be the first signs that something is amiss. A closer look at your herd might reveal hair loss, crusty patches of skin in the ears or foul odors and small insects crawling around their ears and bodies. The more mites that are present in the ears, the more likely goats are to exhibit symptoms.
Several species of mites can infest goat herds. The most common, according to Oklahoma State University, include goat follicle mite (Demodex caprae), scabies mite (Sarcoptes scabiei), psoroptic ear mite (Psoroptes cuniculi), and chorioptic scab mite (Chorioptes bovis). Each species of mite affects goats in a different way and may cause distinct symptoms.
Goat follicle mites get trapped under the skin, blocking hair follicles, which causes scabs under the skin. As the mites reproduce, the lesions get larger. In extreme cases, several thousand goat mites can be trapped under a single lesion. The scabs are most common in the face and neck but can also affect the ears.
Scabies mites burrow under the skin. Most goats show no signs of infestation but severe cases can lead to crusted lesions and hair loss. These mites are often found in and around the ears but the muzzle, inner thighs, hocks, and underside can also be affected.
The chorioptic scab mite is the main cause of mange in goats but it is rare in or around the ears; the most common areas of infestation are the legs and feet.
As its name suggests, the psoroptic ear mite is the most common ear mite. Infestations lead to classic responses like head shaking, ear scratching, foul odor, and hair loss; severe cases can also cause loss of balance and spasms of the neck muscles and a chronic infestation can cause anemia and weight loss.
Psoroptic ear mites are troublesome because they can survive without a host for up to three weeks at low temperatures and high humidity (their lifespan without a host is shorter in conditions of high temperatures and low humidity).
Kids are more apt to be infested psoroptic ear mites than adults; infested does transfer mites to their offspring. In a study published in the Australian Veterinary Journal, 21% of goats sampled had ear mites and the youngest goat diagnosed with the parasite was just 14 days old.
LaManchas experience more issues with ear mites because their small ears don’t provide the same protection as longer ears.
Treatments for ear mites are as common as the mites themselves.
Hot lime sulfur sprays or dips treat all mite species, including ear mites. Treatments should be repeated every 12 days as needed.
Oral ivermectin is another common treatment but the Merck Veterinary Manual warns that single doses, while shown to reduce the number of goat mites over a 24-hour period, are not sufficient to cure an infestation and additional doses may be required. The University of Kentucky recommends six milliliters per 25 pounds of body weight; a 100-pound goat will need 24 ml of ivermectin.
You also can use mineral oil to smother mites. Other topical treatments can be applied to the inside of the ears to kill mites and soothe irritation in the ear canals.
With all treatments, it’s important to treat the entire herd, not just the goats with obvious signs of ear mites as the pests can jump between goats; a second treatment will kill all of the eggs that hatched after the initial treatment. Left untreated, mite populations will multiply, potentially leading to serious health issues in your herd.
Prevention is also essential. You can prevent the spread of ear mites by isolating any new animals for at least two weeks, providing enough time to diagnose and treat potential infestations and goat ear infections before they spread to the rest of the herd. Goats that have been transported off-farm for events such as livestock shows or sales should be quarantined, too, to ensure that close contact with other goats did not expose them to the parasites.
Ear mites are blood-sucking external parasites in goats. Keeping a watchful eye on your herd (and checking their ears for signs of mites) can help you catch — and treat — the problem early, keeping your goats healthy and itch-free.
Originally published in the Goat Journal 2020 special subscriber issue — Goat Health, From Head to Hoof — and regularly vetted for accuracy.