Signs and Symptoms - Goats are lucky, in the respect that as a general rule, they have fairly constant attention from their human carers. The way we keep them creates their dependency upon us. In many ways, this is very good news for the goat because we are able to observe their behaviour on a day to day basis and usually very quickly notice any changes in attitude, appetite and activity.
Activity - is the key word here, in respect of skin problems.
The goat with an irritated skin will be persistently scratching itself. It will use its teeth, its hind hooves and its horns if it has them. In extreme cases it will rub on shelters, gate and fence posts and in fact any solid object that it can find.
If you notice this behaviour in your goat or goats, immediately restrain and examine them.
If your eyesight is not 100%, put some glasses on or get hold of a magnifying glass because it is sometimes very difficult to see small parasites on the skin. I first realised that I needed glasses when examining a goat for lice I was completely unable to see the offending creatures until I put on a pair of reading glasses and there they were! My family will not let me forget this one!
Diagnosis and treatment of Parasitic infestation Lice (Damalinia Caprae): Part the hair and examine the skin carefully. The chances are that you will see small oval shaped lice moving within the coat, sometimes in clusters. They are dark brown/black in colour and move quickly through the coat. Their eggs are oval and cream coloured and adhere to the hair follicle. "droppings" from the lice will be seen as small black specks. If the lice have only recently arrived, the goat will not look too bad but if it has been infested for more than a few days, bare patches will have begun to develop in the goat and it will generally be rather miserable and probably beginning to lose weight with all the activity involved in scratching. After two weeks the goat will be in a dire state and in urgent need of treatment, so do not delay! Lice are probably the most common cause or irritation in a goat and are particularly prevalent from late autumn to early spring. If you have more than one goat, then all must be treated or the problem will just keep reoccurring.
Treatment: There are many good lice preparations on the market, some of which are herbal and equally as effective as chemical compounds. Regular readers will know that I am a constant advocate of Flowers of Sulphur (obtainable from www.gardendirect.co.uk) for parasitic infections but there is also a very good louse powder available from Goat Nutrition (www.gnltd.co.uk or Tel: 01233 770780) Chemical pour-ons available from most Smallholder supply shops are also very effective as are their herbal equivalents. Spot On is another small quantity pour on that can be used but will need to be purchased from your vet or an Agricultural Merchant. For one or two Pygmy goats, Spot on for dogs/cats is another possibility or even a dog "flea collar" once the initial infestation is under control. Use all preparations according to the manufacturer's instructions or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for the article on use of Flowers of Sulphur. Lice can only live ON the goat, so once cleared of infestation; there is little or no risk of the lice recontaminating the coat from bedding or surroundings.
Prevention: Prevention of further outbreaks involves routine treatment with any of the previously mentioned products. If goats are to winter in then treatment as they come into the goat house for winter and then again before turnout in the spring. Keep a particular eye on kids who become run down very quickly once infested with lice.
Harvest Mites: Harvest mites generally are found on the legs, heels and coronet region, sometimes penetrating between the toes. They will be seen as an orange cluster which needs a magnifying glass to identify. The cluster is actually thousands of mites which cling together. The areas tend to be greasy and flaky.
Treatment: Remove the goat from the pasture that it is on and treat chemically with benzene hexachloride or naturally with sulphur ointment. My personal preference is the latter because the sulphur will kill the parasites and the ointment softens and debrides the skin of the scurfiness which harvest mites create. Once recovered, try to turn the goat out onto fresh pasture and avoid the area you have been using fro six weeks.
Mange Mites: Manges fall into several different categories and are inherently difficult group to control. There are four different types of mange mite that affect goats and it is important to discover which mite is affecting your goat as the treatment for each will vary and in some cases virtually incurable so your vet will definitely need to take a skin sample to identify the causative mite and advise appropriate treatment. While I always try to treat my own goats with a homeopathic slant, in the case of mange, I would always entrust my animal to a veterinarian as being the best possible chance of a successful outcome.
So as a general rule, if you cannot identify lice or harvest mites, a call to the vet is the best option.
Remember that most parasitic infections will give rise to a generalised irritation whereas skin diseases will probably be more localised.
Diagnosis of skin conditions Having established that on the face of it your goat does not have a generalised parasitic infection, we must then look at other possible causes.
The numbers of more obscure skin conditions are many and varied, but I will try to cover the more common ones that can generally be treated on a self help basis.
Ringworm: Ringworm is not a worm but a fungal infection which can also affect us, so care must be taken not to transfer the infection. It is actually harder to contract than you would imagine as damaged skin is needed for the fungus to enter. The most common reason for goats becoming infected is where they have rubbed on a rough object that has perhaps previously been rubbed upon by another with the same problem. For instance: A cow with the problem could rub on a gate post leaving fungal spores behind and then another animal or person could catch themselves on that object, abrading the skin and there a site occurs for infection to enter.
Sometimes, when older buildings which have been used for cattle are used for other stock, the problem occurs as the fungal spores can lie dormant for years before a new host comes along.
There is usually a circular scaly patch about the size of a 10 pence piece. The edges of the circle look typically reddened and when other lesions occur, they can quickly join up to create a very large patch indeed.
Treatment: As with all fungus, the one thing it hates is an acid environment and so a generous application of lemon juice (and this must be the real thing, not one of those squeezy ones!)Vinegar can also be used, but lemon juice really is the best.
Gentian violet is another cure but does make the goat take on a rather psychedelic appearance!
Similarly, your vet will be able to supply a chemical alternative if you feel this is more appropriate.
Yet again, my old friend Flowers of Sulphur is a great fungicide and will cure the problem after two or three applications.
Prevention: Keep an eye on your stock, look for bare, itchy circular patches and keep your old posts and old timber within the goat house creosoted annually.
Make sure that the housing of the affected goat is thoroughly disinfected with Virkon E which can be bought in small sachets from agricultural and equestrian outlets for around £2 which will disinfect quite a large area. The cost of a large container of Virkon is high and so I would recommend purchasing the sachets.
Forage Mites - Forage mites can contaminate feedstuffs. Concentrate rations can become infested quite quickly and the mites can afflict the goat by migrating from the feed to the goats skin. Although not usually a problem in the respect that they cannot live on the goat itself for any length of time, they can and do cause allergic irritation in the goat.
Treatment: Treat the goat as for lice and then destroy all contaminated feedstuffs. Clean out the feed bins with hot soapy water and then dust with that perennial favourite Flowers of Sulphur before refilling with fresh feed. Any mites that might be in subsequent batches of feed will quickly succumb to the sulphur and die. Take up the problem with your feed supplier. Infested feed should not enter the animal food chain, but in my experience quite frequently does.
Lumpy Wood - is dermatophilus. It is the same organism that causes mud fever in horses and again is a tiny fungal spore that causes a stubbly paint brush type appearance of the coat and tiny bald patches which are often weeping serum and become crusty and sore.
It is generally a problem of weather conditions, sometimes damp and wet in the winter but also caused by humidity in the summer months. Where I live, in Cornwall we often have heavy sea mists and warm weather combining and this has caused a problem for me with this fungus in both goats and sheep.
Treatment: Again, I have successfully treated the problem with a topical application of Flowers of Sulphur and in the case of a sheep, a combination of Sulphur, Aloe Vera Gel and Japanese Peppermint Oil. The peppermint oil has been useful in keeping flies away as there is also a problem waiting to happen with fly strike if the condition gets established.
Warts - are commonly found on the udder and teats of goats and again need damaged skin to establish themselves. They are a virus and again are transmissible to us if the conditions are right. ie broken skin in order for the virus to enter.
Treatment: Most warts are self limiting and will disappear spontaneously in about six months. Anything that creates a problem for milking develops a "stalk" or bleeds needs attention from your vet.
In summary, good husbandry and keeping a constant eye on your goats will tell you immediately if something is wrong and can quickly be dealt with. Anything you are unsure about, veterinary advice should always be taken.