A Quick Health Exam
Maxine Kinne

Other peoples' goats may visit your farm from time to time for breeding, disbudding, neutering, and other reasons. Regardless of the reason for the visit, examine each new arrival for general health and external parasites right in the driveway, especially if they will be staying on your property or commingling with your animals. Your goats may acquire many different health problems from visitors, even diseases that are highly contagious or impossible to eradicate. It's up to you to keep them out. 

Every animal that comes onto your property should get a clean bill of heath. Don't feel obliged to let unhealthy animals stay because you don't want to be embarrassed by pointing out a problem. If you are unsatisfied with the visitor's exam, discuss it rationally with the owner and reschedule the visit when the problem is cleared up. The owner either didn't realize the goat wasn't up to par, or s/he doesn't really care what happens to your goats. Talking about it is a good way to educate people who don't realize they have a problem or to make it very apparent that you are not going to risk your animals' health on someone's whim.

First Impressions

A quick health inspection is very easy to do by hand, and medical instruments aren't necessary. Work from head to tail and top to bottom. Note the animal's general appearance before you lay a hand on it. Is it listless or frisky? Does it breathe too rapidly for its activity level? Coughing? Is the hair rough, dry or missing? How about body condition - too thin or too fat?


Head Look at the eyes, nose and ears for discharges or abnormalities. A clear nasal discharge is all right, cloudy ones are not. The mouth deserves a close look for scabs or crusts on or around the lips.

Run your hands from the jaw line down both sides of the neck to feel for lumps.

Body Check for lice on the back of the neck, shoulders, and at various spots down the topline and down the sides. Sucking lice congregate along the top of the neck and rump. Biting lice don't have favorite areas to congregate and can be found all over. The hair must be parted to see lice. Run your hands over the animal's sides to feel for lumps, especially the neck, shoulders and flanks.
Legs & Feet Pick up each one and look for infections like hoof rot and scald. Ask the owner to trim overgrown hooves so you can really see what they're like, or offer to do the trimming. Check the leg joints for swelling.
Perineum Is fresh or dried diarrhea or staining present? Does the doe's vulva have any unusual discharge? (Mucus from a doe in heat and the brownish lochia from a doe who has kidded within the previous few weeks is all right).
Udder & Testicles Palpate for normal texture. One of my favorite general diagnostic aids is palpating the supramammary lymph nodes located at the rear junction of the udder, or testicles, and the body. Reach in from the rear and lightly grab a mass of tissue. Gently move your fingers and thumb together until you feel two small lumps very close to each other. Those are the supramammary lymph nodes. There are several other superficial lymph node locations: the prescapular lymph node at the point of the shoulder is the easiest to feel, especially when animals dislike their nether parts messed with.) Practice on healthy goats to become adept at discerning swelled nodes which may indicate a systemic or developing problem.

Inspect the prepuce (end of the penis sheath, pronounced preepyoos) for scabs and accumulations of urine, urine crystals or dirt.


Besides general health concerns, there are three incurable diseases of major concern. These may be transmitted between one or more species. Animals move around for a lot of reasons, and health certification for the following three diseases can rarely be 100% guaranteed.

Always ask about any abscess history in the herd you buy from. Never buy a goat that has ever had an abscess, unless it was cultured and negative for Caseous Lymphadenitis. CL is spread via pus from ruptured external or internal abscesses.

Always insist on negative test results for Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis Virus (CAEV) and Johne's Disease for both the goat you are buying and, if it is under one year old, its mother. Several annual whole-herd negative tests are even better, indicating that the herd owner is aware of these diseases and cares about selling healthy animals.

CAEV and Johne's can have long incubation periods, and a goat may look perfectly healthy for a number of months or years. By the time you begin to notice health problems, many other goats in your herd will be infected. Again, there is no cure for these diseases.

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