Cancer in Goats: Squamous cell carcinoma

skin cancer in goats

Even though my husband has had more cases of skin cancer than I can remember, it never occurred to me that goats could ever be a victim of that disease.

Over the past 20 years, my husband has had it all multiple times, from dysplastic nevi and basal cells to squamous cells and even melanoma. They’ve all been removed when they were no bigger than the eraser on the end of a pencil. So, even though I’d seen many cases of skin cancer, they didn’t look much worse than an ugly freckle.

When a lump appeared near the rectum of my goat Lizzie, I thought it looked like hemorrhoids. I didn’t think goats could get hemorrhoids, but it didn’t seem like a big deal, and I never actually thought about it when I was inside and could look it up. (Had I checked, I would have realized that hemorrhoids are not a problem in goats.)

Over the months, the bumps got bigger, and they started to drain. I sent a picture to my vet, and she said to clean it daily and treat her with injectable penicillin. That didn’t help at all, and Lizzie hated it. Then I invested in an $85 prescription antibiotic cream (silver sulfadiazene). That also did nothing. At this point, we were assuming she had a skin infection that was antibiotic resistant.

Since Lizzie was 12 years old and retired, I couldn’t justify taking her to the university vet hospital for diagnostics. Plus she seemed fine. She was eating and acting normally. As the months went on, however, she seemed less happy, and we’d sometimes hear her grinding her teeth when she pooped. Finally we made the very hard decision to put her down. Since we had not used any antibiotics on our farm in years, I couldn’t understand how one of our goats had acquired an antibiotic-resistant infection, but we had no other explanation.

skin cancer in goat
Peri-anal Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Then in October 2017, during a conference sponsored by the American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners, a slide appeared on the screen that made me scream inside, “Lizzie!” I took a picture of the slide and immediately texted it to my husband with the message, “Remind you of anything?” He texted back, “Lizzie.” The title of the slide was “Peri-anal Squamous Cell Carcinoma.”

Based on the experience of the speaker and the other vets in the room, there have not been any cases that were successfully treated. In most cases, euthanasia is the recommendation.

In some cases, they have attempted surgery and radiation, but the carcinomas always came back. In fact, one vet who had performed necropsies on goats with peri-anal squamous cell carcinoma said that the cancer had spread into and through the intestines and pelvic cavity of the goats.

Although there isn’t a cure for skin cancer in goats, I think it’s important for owners to know about it so that they don’t make an incorrect assumption like we did.

During a break between sessions at the conference, I showed the above picture to the vet who seemed to have the most experience with it, and she immediately said that it was squamous cell. Other vets who saw the picture agreed.

When I told her that my vet didn’t know what it was, she said she was not surprised because it’s probably not as common in Illinois as it is in states with stronger sunlight. So, our vet had probably never seen a case before Lizzie.

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What you need to know about skin cancer in goats

White goats with light pink skin like Lizzie are especially at risk of skin cancer. This means it is most common in Saanens and Angoras, but can occur in goats with darker pigmentation. One vet said she had seen it in quite a few NDs, and one of the pictures showed a buckskin ND.

In addition to squamous cell carcinomas, goats can also get basal cell and melanoma. The most common location for skin cancer in goats is exposed skin or skin with very little hair, such as nose, ears, eyelid, udder, and under the tail (because goats walk around holding their tail up).

According to Goat Medicine, goats that repeatedly get udder warts may eventually wind up with squamous cell carcinoma, which will eat through the skin, ultimately causing mastitis that would necessitate amputation of the udder half.

goat skin cancer
A reader submitted this photo of a goat diagnosed with skin cancer at an early stage. The red spots were removed, and although the edges were “clean,” more spots showed up within a couple of months.
goat skin cancer
Another reader’s goat that was diagnosed with peri-anal skin cancer at a much more advanced stage.

It’s important to know what this looks like so that if you have a goat with it, you don’t waste time trying to treat for something else like a skin infection. Lizzie certainly did not like us cleaning the area, and she was not fond of the injections.

The reason Lizzie’s picture looks different than the photo provided by one of my readers is because my reader didn’t try to “clean it up” and treat it like we did. Had we known that Lizzie had an incurable disease, we would have made the decision to put her down a lot sooner. That may not be the right answer for everyone, but we felt bad for not ending her suffering sooner.

Learn more on my podcast For the Love of Goats Episode #53: Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Nigerian Dwarf Goats.

This post is provided for educational purposes only. It is not meant to replace the services of a qualified veterinarian, and it is not meant to diagnose or treat any disease.

skin cancer in goats

50 thoughts on “Cancer in Goats: Squamous cell carcinoma”

  1. Thanks for the info. Hopefully Alaska is in the low incidence category for the more serious cancers. I was interested in your comment on udder warts. Macchi is five years old and has kidded three times, 8 males. Last year she developed some small bumps on her udder that soon disappeared. Just recently I’ve noticed another bump close to one of her teats. Do warts come and go like that or would you think of anything else?

    Reply
    • There are other skin infections that can cause bumps on the udder. You’d probably have to have a vet look at them or do lab work to know exactly what they were.

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      • You might also check into staph infections in goats; if the bumps apppear soon after kidding, they might reduce the doe’s immunity enough to let the staph spread. It looks like pimples on the udder and surrounding tissue.

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      • If it’s just bumps on the udder, that’s not cancer, so it shouldn’t be fatal. It’s likely some type of skin infection that can be treated with a topical, but it could be fungal or bacterial, which would use different types of medication, which is why I suggested a vet call to Barb. If you want to try iodine or BluKote (gentian violet) first, those are a couple of options.

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  2. Our 11 month old pink skinned ND Buckling has something on his nose . I’m going g to be calling the vet . Silly me thought that he just developed a mole as he wasn’t yet full grown . Now I realize we may be dealing with something horrible

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  3. I wish there were a way for me to post a picture of my ND’s nose . I’m so upset and it will take a couple of weeks to get the vet here . You mentioned it not being curable ? Is that all types of goat skin cancer?

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    • Can you send your vet a picture?
      From what I’ve read, there’s not much you can do. At the conference, two of the vets said they attempted treating squamous cell carcinomas, and it was futile. One of them said that when she’s done necropsies on goats with it on the rectum, the cancer is spread throughout the organs in the pelvis. It sounds like the problem is that the by the time you know you have skin cancer in goats, it’s so big that you can’t remove it all surgically. In my husband, they’ve all been removed when they were not much bigger than a freckle, and sometimes, if the edges are not “clean,” the doctor has to remove more skin.

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  4. I had a doe with skin cancer and not very big just a pea size spot at first.
    I asked the vet about removing it, after she had her kids,
    He said that if you remove the growth it would make the skin to tight, around her bottom. I bred her one more time then retired her. She lived quite a few more years (6), but then the cancer went wild, so we had to put her down.

    One thing that might help with any goat is prevention, have plenty of shady areas for them to lay in, I know they can’t ware hats, but trees and and shaded areas in your pasture and around your barns could help keep them out of the sun. It could help with some kinds of skin cancer.
    I really appreciate your article.

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  5. I can’t thank you enough for bringing this to my attention. I have an ND doe who is 5 years old and started developing growths around her anus about two years ago. We tried antibiotics to no avail. Nobody could tell me what it was including the vet. Now they are getting huge, she isn’t holding weight and her udder is full and lumpy even though she’s been dry for three years. I think this is what she has and now I can make that difficult decision. Thanks again. I’ll try to post pics.

    Reply
    • Sorry to hear about your doe. Thanks for sharing your story. Although there is not a way to post pictures on here, you could post them in the comment section on the Thrifty Homesteader Facebook page, if you’re on there. Good luck!

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  6. I would love to share my picture of my does cancer with you. It is not large or oozing. Just thought people would like to see what else it can look like.
    Email me and I can send a picture and tell you what has been done so far for treatment. yrfgoats@gmail.com

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    • Thanks so much for being willing to share. It would be good to have a picture that’s not such an advanced case. Just sent you an email.

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    • If you take them to a slaughterhouse, the inspector will condemn any meat that’s not fit for consumption. With peri-anal carcinoma, you are not eating anything from that area anyway, unless you wanted to save intestines to use for sausage casing, so you wouldn’t lose any meat.

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  7. I had a lovely white doe that developed CA also on her perianal area after she had been sold to another person. He treated her under vet supervision for 2 years and while it appeared to go into remission for a while, it did return finally and they let her go. She was about 9 at the time. This is the only case I have experienced in 15 years with goats in the NV high desert (5500′ elevation, 300 days of intense sun) and around 200 animals. It’s good to bring awareness to your readers that CA is a possibility where anal lesions are apparent, even though probably no treatment is going to make it better.

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  8. We just received our biopsy result from our beloved pink nosed blue eyed ND three year old pet doe that was positive for cancer. We live in Tampa Fl but made sure our pen had plenty of shade. That didn’t help because about five months ago she developed a bright red round bump just over where she poops. We thought it was a skin infection because sometimes her poops would stick to that area and we’d have to brush them away. Now we understand that the poops were likely sticking because she had started developing squamous cell bumps that were small and colorless. When the largest red bump wasn’t improving we took her to our vet. We dont yet know what we will do. We got her when she was two days old and cuddled her while she gulped her milk and love her like our dogs. Sounds like even after surgeries and treatments, and lots of bills, there’s not a good survival rate. Would it make sense to have a blood test or organ function test done to see how advanced the cancer is before putting her through an unnecessary surgery?

    Reply
    • I’m not sure how useful blood tests or organ function tests would be, as most people wind up putting down goats because they seem to be in too much pain or because it’s become difficult for them to poop, but even then the organs are still functioning. The reason that surgery doesn’t often work is because the cancer has spread into the intestines and pelvis. I haven’t discussed this with a vet, but perhaps a rectal ultrasound would tell you how far it was advanced? If it’s already into the intestines, then you wouldn’t be able to remove it all. But even as the person before you had commented, you may think you got all of it, but it may come back again.

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  9. Baby goat born with huge ugly black scab. What might it be. Once saw a newborn piglet with same. Told that was a melanoma. Is this possible, some inner breeding going on.

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  10. My doe has something very similar to the 1st picture and now i understand why nothing worked before when trying to make it better. But I have a question can you still safely drink her milk?

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    • I’ve never heard any recommendations on this either way. I don’t know of any research that says skin cancer is contagious, and it is localized in the early stages. This would be something to discuss with a vet who is familiar with skin cancer in goats.

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  11. Hi Deborah
    I’ve had a goat that had a sore on the foot, I thought it was cancerous (I had read that it could be Copper Deficient) So I packed the sore with copper sulfate daily!
    After about a week it was almost healed !
    I even tried it on a sore I had it healed in a couple of days! But it did sting & hurt for a little while!
    But its the quickest I’ve had a sore heal

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  12. Hi Deborah, thanks for the info, I have a pretty Saanen girl and I’ll be cartain to keep an eye on her.
    Regarding putting a goat with skin cancer down, would you do that right away, even if they seem well and happy? Or would you wait until they showed signs of illness?

    Reply
    • That’s a super personal decision, but I personally would probably wait until I thought she was in pain. That’s why we ultimately put down Lizzie — because she was grinding her teeth every time she pooped. The main thing is that I simply would not put the goat through everything we put Lizzie through — cleaning the site of the cancer, injecting her with antibiotics, etc. None of that helped her and just caused more pain for her.

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  13. Thank you so much for the pictures and story about Lizzie my little girl Jenny looks to have the exact same thing. Jenny is also white and about 10 years old she has been such a sweet pet and we definitely want to do what is best for her and make sure she doesn’t suffer. Looks like we have a hard decision to make but because of your help I know it will be the right thing to do.

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      • My dear little goat has been dealing with an unknown ulcer near her rectum. I’ve tried all kinds of treatments to no avail. SCC seems liklely, she is my oldest doe and the only one with “pink” perirectal skin. Thank you for your article, I feel bad treating for infectious/ fungal conditions. I don’t want her to suffer.

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  14. I have an 8 year old alpine / Kiko doe. Overall healthy, but over the past couple of years has been developing more bumps / lesions on her udder. I am fairly sure one is probably a squamous or basal cell carcinoma because of the pink skin & the development. I should send pictures to my vet, but I have already spent so much money the past couple of months with lamb, a couple of horses, and my dear special cat.
    I have not been to muster sending more pictures. I have found using a paste if coconut oil, turmeric, Black pepper, lemon essential oil, peppermint seems to keep it at bay & provide relief, especially from insects.

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    • Keeping bugs off is definitely a gift for her. I never actually thought about that, but flies didn’t bother Lizzie’s back end at all, which is surprising, especially during the summer. That would have made it so much worse.

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  15. Peri-anal Squamous Cell Carcinoma : I’m contributing to this thread in hopes that others are spreading the word that this is a horrible and life threatening cancer.

    We raise Nigerian Dairy goats and we register them with ADGA and most are registered. Most are Nigerian and female with light to white skin tones that have been diagnosed with the cancer, as well we have a Pygmy male goat the starting showing signs 8 months ago, but it is slow in the spreading of it
    Last year we lost two Nigerian goat females both with light colored skin get Peri-anal Squamous Cell Carcinoma we had to put them down when it was time…. from the time we first see it to the time we put them down was about 6 months.

    This year currently we have 8 goats in our heard of 66 goats who have different stages of this dreaded cancer.

    Our Vets both agree that there is no real treatment or cure and we should work on preventing them from UV rays, which is difficult.
    We house our goats in our goat barn at night, they have free range of 10 protected acres that are covered in very old live oak trees, giving them many areas to eat leaves and rest in the shade… They even have an enormous hazelnut tree in front of the barn where most spend their leisure time resting and playing.
    But we find that even in the summer months here in North Central Florida they bask in the full sun and some even sleep… Most of the affected goats are a bit older range of ages from 6 years to 10 years.

    This is a horrible and expensive cancer where we have had no luck in treating with Cryotherapy (using a carbon dioxide (CO2) unit applying it directly to the small reddish pimple like bump when we first see the tell tell signs ).
    The treatment did not work and the vets we work with did not recommend surgically removing them, since they claim it just comes right back.
    Even euthanasia is expensive our vets charge 200.00 per goat.

    It’s super sad to see our goats suffer from this cancer and we monitor their behavior to see when it is effecting them to the point that we need to put them down.

    Wish we had something positive to contribute but we don’t.

    We did find this link about treatment interesting:

    https://europepmc.org/article/PMC/4572820

    Reply
    • Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I’m sorry to hear you have had so much experience with this cancer! Since you mentioned live oaks, I’m thinking you live down south where you get bright sun year round. A vet who raises Saanens in Colorado where they have a high rate of skin cancer said that she actively selects against the goats with pink skin for this reason.

      Thanks for also sharing the link to that study. It is very interesting.

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  16. Thank you for this article. I was thinking maybe my ND had an STD, but it is cancer. But she never acts like she doesn’t feel good. I will be retiring her after she kids (any minute now). She has had these growths since I got her. They get bad and then it seems like some of them fall off. But it always comes back.

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  17. Very helpful tip because I had to read your presentation since I have the same problem and it’s now two months my goat has suffered the same case. Very educational since since I have had the same issue in 2018 & ended up killing the goat having suffered for about a year.

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  18. I have a wether who has had these growths for a couple of years…vet also didn’t know, and I’m guessing it might be cancer. He doesn’t seem to be otherwise affected and not in pain – any reason to put him down?

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  19. I have a 5 year old doe that is just showing signs of skin cancer on her pink peri-anal region. Have you ever heard of using the cream they use on horses with skin cancer? Fluorouracil is the drug. It works great on horses.

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    • This would be a question for your vet, but when I attended a vet conference three years ago, no one there had ever successfully treated a goat with this type of cancer because it is not ONLY on the skin. It goes into the pelvic cavity.

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  20. There is a study beginning at UC-Davis to investigate the cause of SCC in Nigerian Dwarf goats, where squamous appears to be quite prevalent. In a previous study, UC-Davis was able to identify and create a test for a recessive mutation in Haflinger horses which made them much more likely to develop squamous. There is no guarantee that certain lines of Nigerians are also genetically predisposed to SCC, but this study is a great first step toward finding out. If you have a Nigerian with squamous, especially if you have more than one related animal with SCC in your herd, please consider joining the study. Details on what is required are at http://www.herronhilldairy.com (click the squamous link) and there is also a new Facebook group for SCC in Nigerians. https://www.facebook.com/groups/388781719212604/

    Reply
  21. I have a 14 year old all white boer mix wether. I noticed lesions on his anus he had a few red and a discolored, nodular to the left of his rectum 4 years ago. I had them surgically excised (he had a one on his cheek, near his eye as well) and biopsy confirmed all were SCCs. He has maintained very well, aside from last year he developed one on the medial canthus of his right eye. I would have removed it but he also developed an arrhythmia, so at 13 my vet was reluctant to fully sedate again. I have applied topical neo poly dex ophthalmic ointment to his eye and betagen spray to all new lesions that developed on and near his rectum. The betagen has worked well on the rectal lesions (it’s a steroid and antibiotic). I only accidentally discovered the betagen due to trying to keep infection at bay until his vet appointment that was about 2 weeks out. The lesions were almost gone by the appt and completely healed shortly thereafter. He does have new lesions that appear and I immediately start treating twice daily with the betagen. It helped Marley, but I luckily caught early. He’s my only goat so it’s easier to keep an eye on him. His lesion on his right eye has really taken off and he’s definitely not easy to handle (he’s 165lbs of bottle baby orneriness). I know my time with him is nearing to an end, but I wanted to share my treatment plan I have used on him the last 4 years in case it can help anyone at all.

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    • I have heard of it spreading to the udder, and I definitely wouldn’t use their milk if that was the case. If it is still isolated to the rectum or nose or somewhere far away from the mammary system, and it’s still in the early stages (has not metastasized), it might be okay. There is so little info or research on cancer in goats, and I have not seen this addressed in any of the literature.

      Reply

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