Goat Lice, Goat Fleas, Goat Mites & Ticks
External parasites are annoying at best and devastating at their worst.
It’s important to take steps as quickly as possible before the population turns into a full blown Infestation. These pests can lead to bacterial infections of the skin, and a possible take down of an already weak immune system.
You can prevent such infections by routine grooming, avoiding overcrowding of your goats, and identifying and treating infestations early on.
External Parasites can make your animals truly miserable, so it’s important to treat them as soon as you notice a problem. The quicker you act, your chance of avoiding a complete infestation goes up. Since goats live outside, they are bound to run into pesky insects at one point or another; however, you can keep the pests from becoming a problem.
Signs / Symptoms of External Parasites
Many external parasites feed off their host’s blood by biting into the flesh. These bites leave behind itchy bumps that can be really uncomfortable. One of the most obvious signs that your goat may have fleas is that they will be excessively scratching. They may also rub against fence posts and rocks and even bite at their skin to relieve the itch.
Excessive scratching can potentially cause open wounds that can get infected. If you notice such wounds on your goat, you know there is a serious problem going on. You can use a goat itch relief product to help relieve your goat from the discomfort and stress, but action needs to be taken to eliminate the cause.
Skin Irritations / Loss of Hair
Another way to check your goats for external parasites is to examine their skin. Do you notice any irritated areas or red bumps over the goat’s body? Every animal will react differently to a parasitic presence, but some goats may have more of a reaction to them
and develop red and irritated skin.
While fleas for example, can bite all over the goat’s body, there are certain areas that fleas prefer to congregate more than others. Check these areas on your goat for any sign of irritated and itchy skin:
Sudden Display of Discomfort
Whenever I have witnessed an animal with external parasites, one thing I notice is episodes of sudden discomfort. This may look like your goat relaxing and resting to suddenly jumping up and acting irritated. This irritability can be caused by the fleas moving around or the fleas biting into the goat.
Fleas are tiny creatures that can be hard to find, especially on livestock with thick coats. So, how are you supposed to tell whether or not your goat has fleas? Here are some things to look out for when determining whether or not your goat may have fleas:
Signs of Flea Poop in their Coat
Everyone poops…even fleas. One way you can find evidence of flea existence is by
checking your goat’s coat for flea feces. Since most livestock lives outside and tends to get dirty and dusty, it may be difficult to find flea poop unless you know what to look for.
You may find a clump of flea poop around the base hair of your goat’s tail. The feces will look like black specks. Examine closer to the roots of the hair, as this is where most of the feces will be. I don’t know if fleas like to poop in the same spot over and over again, but their waste tends to gather and clump together, so it can be easier to spot.
Fleas can lay up to 50 eggs a day! This means there may be a population of flea eggs that you don’t know about until their adults and causing your goats discomfort.
A quick trip to the farm supply store can overwhelm an unprepared livestock owner when faced with an unexpected parasite problem within their goat herd.
As such, many Veterinarians hesitate to guide livestock owners in "off-label" usage, Making a solid relationship with your local vet is 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.
Regardless of which Parasite is the culprit, Livestock will
Experience Reduced Milk Production,
Develop Wounds and 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.
To do this, you can bathe or spray your goat with an insecticide for goats. Depending on the insecticide you get, it can kill adult fleas and larvae. Here are some insecticides that can be used on goats:
Diatomaceous Earth Insecticide by DEsect for Livestock & Poultry
Durvet Permethrin 10%
Merck 2771694 Ultra Boss Pour-On
Many times, fleas will lay eggs wherever your goat sleeps. 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.
Many different forms of parasite control exist—some for living quarters and others for direct application on the animal. Be aware of which form of pesticide you are selecting.
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)
Goats can get two kinds of lice: sucking lice and biting/burrowing lice. Biting lice eat dead skin cells on the goats and make them itch. Sucking lice are more serious — they not only cause itching, but they suck the goats' blood, which can lead to anemia.
Lice tend to take up residence on a goat in winter months. You can usually tell that a goat has lice because it shows signs of itching. Its coat may begin to look rough, and the goat will rub on fences (more than usual), have dandruff, lose patches of hair, and chew on itself.
You can see the lice or their grayish eggs (called nits) by inspecting the top of the goat's back with a magnifying glass. You need a microscope to determine whether you're dealing with sucking or biting lice. Sucking lice have narrower heads, and biting lice have wide heads.
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.
Shear Long-Haired Goats
If you have a long-haired goat that has fleas, or lice, shearing off their coat can make it much easier to deal with the pests. It will enable you to get rid of a whole bunch of real estate that parasites may have been living in. Secondly, you’ll now be able to be more strategic and accurate with the goat’s treatments.
When you shear your goat, be sure to properly seal away and dispose of the fur. If you leave the sheared coat on the ground, the fleas or lice could easily escape and find another animal. Throw the hair away in a trashcan with a lid, or thoroughly bag it up and remove it from the area.
You can often control lice just by regularly brushing your goats or clipping them when the weather is warmer. For more severe infestations, treat goats twice over a two-week period using an insecticide dust such as Co-Ral or a pour-on, such as UltraBoss.
Mites infest goats mainly during colder months. They come in two types: burrowing and non-burrowing. The non-burrowing mites usually start in hairy areas of the body, such as the tail, and then work their way along the body. They attach to the skin and puncture it, releasing body fluid. You may see crusty patches and hair loss on a goat under attack from mites. Several mite species readily infest goats from head to tail, with 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. Many will refer to a mite infestation as "mange".
Some mites live in a goats' ears. These ear mites more commonly cause problems in
La Manchas goats because their small external ears are not as protective as the longer ears. The use of mineral oil in the ears to smother mites proves very effective there.
Burrowing mites are related to the mite that causes scabies in humans. They start in areas that are hairless or have little hair, such as the goat's face or ears. They cause itching and bare burrows in the skin and, eventually, may lead to thickened skin and extensive hair loss.
You can get rid of both burrowing and non-burrowing mites with subcutaneous (under the skin) injections of ivermectin. For best results, treat the whole herd and do a second treatment to ensure that all eggs that hatch after the initial treatment are dead.
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.
If your goats are pastured in or near woods, they're a target for ticks. Ticks can be more
than just pests because they can spread Lyme disease,
Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and other diseases that affect goats and humans. Ticks burrow into the goats' skin, so make sure to remove them as soon as you see them. A tick that has attached to a goat looks like a skin tag and can be as big as a pencil eraser.
Strategically Place Flea-Repelling Plants
Did you know that there are certain plants that repel fleas? Strategically placing these plants around your goat enclosure can prevent fleas from coming near. Here is a list of some flea-repelling plants that are safe to use around your goats but also effective at keeping a flea population away:
Place these plants around your goat enclosure or where your goat sleeps. For the most part, these plants can be eaten by a goat without causing any health problems. In fact, many of these plants can be good for your goats and their ability to produce milk. As with anything, eaten at an excessive amount may cause negative health problems in your goat.
Further Information / Reading
Two online groups that have been invaluable to our farm 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.