Hair Loss in Pygmy Goats

Carol Raczykowski
Reviewed by Dr. William Holleman

(Reprinted from Pygmy Goat WORLD magazine with permission)


There are some things you just don't find in veterinary books, especially about Pygmy goats. Hair loss, caused by something other than a parasite, virus or trauma, is one of them.

Shedding is different from hair loss. Shedding in goats is regularly observed in the Spring, but tends to be rather inconspicuous and slow. Goats may even go through several shedding stages depending on factors such as day length and weather. Sexual cycle, function of the thyroid and adrenal glands, and nutrition may also be factors.

Goat hair coats consist of the main outer coat of coarse hairs and a fine, downy undercoat. The coarse guard hairs are produced by primary hair follicles and the finer hairs by secondary hair follicles. Sometimes you can help your goat in its shedding process by combing out the undercoat when the weather warms. This may alleviate hair loss in the future when your pygmies decide to rub off that heavy coat.

Hair loss is more noticeable than shedding and falls into several different categories:

* Traumatic hair loss. This includes rubbing hair off (scratching) on a fence or other object, getting caught on something causing hair loss, or other self-induced causes.

* Fungus or parasites. Skin fungi, such as ringworm, causes hair loss by breaking the hair off at the base. Parasites, like lice or mange, cause itching or irritation and goats will scratch or rub until hair loss occurs. Lice are probably the most common external parasite of goats, but mange, caused by Sarcoptes scabiei, is not uncommon. Here, the mites burrow under the skin causing irritation, and the goat's natural response is to scratch or rub against something. In some areas, insect bites can also cause hair loss as a result of trauma. Bacterial and viral infections may also cause hair loss. 

* Hormonal, or metabolic causes are not as well researched, and that is my inspiration for this article. A good example is a doe after kidding. She may experience a big fluctuation in hormones that results in hair loss. Some does "blow their coat" regularly after parturition, during nursing or weaning (see image). Wethers can also get this same effect when they are castrated, causing an estrogen deficiency. Hypothyroidism can also cause hair loss in goats.

 * Then there is stress. For example, a buck injured his back leg and was isolated while he healed, a stressful situation for a rather sociable buck. He lost all of his long dorsal hair. I'm not exactly sure what causes it (possibly steroids) but there are many validated cases where all other causes have been eliminated. Cats are a great example here. Some will stress on a simple trip to the veterinarian and in one hour may experience significant hair loss. Stress induced hair loss usually will appear on the goat's back.

Zinc deficiency causes of hair loss in goats. In one study done on Pygmy goats and sheep (Zinc deficiency in sheep and goats: Three field cases, JAVMA, Vol 184 (12) 1480-1485, June 15, 1984), it was noted that wool or hair loss was a prominent clinical sign associated with zinc deficiency. Five of the twelve Pygmies were affected and although alopecia (hair loss) was most extensive on the head, neck, flanks, perineal areas, and lower portion of the limbs, the hair was thinning in most of the remaining areas. The skin was thick, dry and scaly and the hair was dull and shaggy. In deficiency studies in calves and goats on Dutch farms, hair loss first appeared on the head and then over the joints of the limbs and the lower abdomen. Wool became loose and easily pulled from lambs after 17 days on a zinc-deficient diet. Wool fibers were brittle, lacked crimp, and were thinner. Loosening and rubbing of the wool were the first visible signs of zinc deficiency in lambs after 4 weeks of a zinc-deficient diet. Pierson reported wool loss in both lambs and ewes because of zinc deficiency in a Colorado flock. Another predominant sign in zinc deficiency is parakeratosis, where the skin becomes dry, scaly, and thick and may become encrusted.

Many other vitamin or mineral deficiencies can also cause hair loss. Vitamin A deficiency can create a rough, dry coat with a shaggy appearance and dandruff. Copper deficiency can cause a goat's hair coat to be rough with a "bleached out" appearance. Iodine deficiency can cause hair loss. Selenium poisoning (too much of a good thing only in certain parts of the country) can also contribute to hair loss.

Shots or other medical treatment may cause hair loss at the site of injection or application. This may happen with some parasite control medications.

Another skin condition with hair loss, scaling and crusting around the eyes, lips and chin is reported in Pygmy goats. In a report found in Veterinary Record, 1987, 121: 24, 576, called Alopecic Exfoliative Dermatitis in Goats. It was noted that the ears, poll and poorly haired areas of the ventrum and perineum were also affected. It has a fluctuating course and at times may spread to other areas of the body. All ages and both sexes can be affected. It is generally not responsive to treatment, although responsive to steroids. The etiology is unknown at this time. A further study was done by Dr. Fernandez and published in Veterinary Dermotology in 1992. In talking with Dr. Jackson (one author of Alopecic Exfoliative Dermatitis in Goats), he explained that they found the hair loss to behave like psoriasis, just like people get. It occured in kids and adults alike and possibly carried a hereditary predisposition. For some it would be worse in the summer and others in the winter. They found that in some goats, zinc deficiency also played a role but never found the true cause. It responded well to steroids in most cases.

Regardless of the cause, there are several ways to differentiate between the categories of hair loss. The first step is to look at the surroundings. Are your goats rubbing on a low object or putting their heads into feeders that may be too tight, causing hair loss on the neck or other areas? Stay alert to these possibilities.

Check for parasites. A visual examination is great but a skin scraping will make the diagnosis conclusive. Not all parasites are visible, and a skin scraping may reveal the presence of mites or other parasites. A skin scraping will help you to either eliminate or confirm one diagnosis and allow you to proceed with treatment. You may even discover a secondary bacterial infection or something else you did not suspect.

Another method of elimination is a blood test to look for possible hormone or vitamin/mineral deficiencies. I realize this is more like the shotgun method of diagnosis than the rifle, but many times in veterinary practice the process of elimination is necessary.

One indicator of the source of hair loss may be found in the different patterns of hair loss. Traumatic hair loss is usually on one side or the other - more in one or two different locations. A parasite problem may show a more unilateral hair loss pattern, and a hormone problem usually manifests itself in a more bilateral pattern where the hair loss is equal on both sides.

Treatments vary, so it is important to diagnose the reason. In traumatic hair loss, when goats are rubbing against an object, its important to make sure it is not due to parasites, tight feeders or heads through the fence. In this case, simply modify the environment to alleviate the problem. Some parasite treatments are toxic, so you don't want to use them if you don't have to. For some types of hormonal hair loss, sometimes it is best just to wait until the situation has calmed down. Hormone levels are complicated and additional problems can be created by trying to alter them.

If there were a magical treatment for hair loss, I would be first in line. In reality, the main focus is to determine the cause and treat the problem. Then, just sit back and wait. The one good thing about hair loss in goats is that it usually grows back. 

Related Reading
Zinc for Animals
Salt for Goats

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