Older Goats: Arthritis, Dental Issues, and More

Episode 76
For the Love of Goats

Caring for Senior Goats featured image

Even though most of you reading this probably don’t think of your goats as food animals, that is how they are categorized in the veterinary world. Since very few food animals don’t have the opportunity to live out their natural lives, there is little research on dealing with health challenges in individual animals. The focus tends to be on herd health, contagious diseases, and production. It can become even more challenging to care for them in old age because there is even less research on the health issues faced by senior animals.

So, what’s a goat owner to do when our favorite goats get old? In this episode, I’m talking to Dr. Michael Pesato, assistant clinical professor of Food Animal Medicine and Surgery at Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine and a diplomat of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners for Food Animal Practice.

In a previous article on senior goats, I discussed what to expect in terms of reproduction as your goats get older, as well life expectancy, and parasites in older goats.

In this episode, we are discussing some of the most common challenges faced by senior goats, including how to deal with age-related arthritis, dental issues, and extremes of hot and cold temperatures, which are especially challenging for older goats.

Other episodes with Dr. Michael Pesato

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Introduction 0:03
For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here is Deborah Niemann.

Deborah Niemann 0:19
Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s episode. This is an episode that I know a lot of you have been looking forward to. This is one of the most requested topics I’ve received. And I’ve been looking for somebody to talk about this for quite a while, but so many people have told me that they really don’t have any experience with older goats, because they are food animals. And so, you know, there’s not that many people keeping them for the entire length of their natural lives. And so, the brave person who finally said “yes” to my request, was Dr. Michael Pesato, Assistant Clinical Professor of Food Animal Medicine and Surgery at Mississippi State University, College of Veterinary Medicine. And, he’s also a diplomat of American Board of Veterinary Practitioners for Food Animal Practice. Thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Pesato.

Michael Pesato 1:09
Thank you, Deborah, for inviting me. I always love talking with you and your audience.

Deborah Niemann 1:13
Thank you. And, I know this is a topic that is very near and dear to the hearts of many people. And me, too. Like, I feel like I’ve been really lucky with my old goats, because they haven’t had too many bad problems as they got older. In fact, I had one doe, who was a really incredible milker. And so, every time she kidded, she would get so skinny, and have such a challenge with parasites, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, she’s not going to live very long.” I retired her after she was 10 years old, and she lived to be 16 and a half.

Michael Pesato 1:47
Wow. Wow, that’s really impressive, as a working mama—if you will—to make it all the way to 16 and a half. That is very impressive.

Deborah Niemann 1:56
Yeah. I took pictures of her when she was like 14 or 15. And I’m like, “You look even better now than you did when you were 8.”

Michael Pesato 2:02

Deborah Niemann 2:02
Like, I don’t understand this.

Michael Pesato 2:04
Retirement did good for her.

Deborah Niemann 2:06
Really, she loved her retirement. And what I usually try to do with the does, is I always try to keep one of their does from their very last kidding, so that they’ve got their daughter there with them for their golden years.

Michael Pesato 2:19

Deborah Niemann 2:19
And she was. Like, she was right there with her daughter. They were always snuggled up sleeping together, you know, forever. And it was so cool. But, I think she’s a really great example of how, you know, goats can really live a long time if they don’t have the continuous stress of, you know, kidding and all that kind of stuff. And usually, most of the questions I get are from people with wethers, and I even had somebody contact me once who had a wether that was close to 20, and I was just so blown away by that. Of course, he was having all the age-related problems.

Michael Pesato 3:20

Deborah Niemann 2:57
So, even though Sherry was 16 and a half, like, she still got around really well. You know, it did not look like she had any problems with her teeth or arthritis or anything like that. So I really didn’t have any experience with that. And I couldn’t find anything for, like, you know, what do you do for, um, like, let’s just start with age-related arthritis. Like, talk about the difference between that and CAE—which is an infective type of arthritis. And then, you know, let’s get into: What do you do if you have a goat that has got arthritis just because it’s old?

Michael Pesato 3:29
Yeah, absolutely. So, I’ve had the pleasure of having a lot of experience with varying ages of sheep and goats, and the goats, obviously, as an animal that tend to bode better as a pet, especially, you know, even if we’re talking about an animal post-retirement, tends to do better as a pet. I have seen a lot of goats that have lived well into their golden years. You know, as a lot of our listeners know, the average age for most goats is anywhere from 10 to 12. Depending on the use or the breed, some of them will live much longer. So, the oldest I’ve ever seen was about 23, I think, and actually, I was unfortunately called out to euthanize him, because he was down at that point. But he had lived a nice long life and hadn’t had any issues. And in fact, it was the first time a veterinarian has seen him—which, I was dismayed by that. I think that quality veterinary care is going to help extend the life of your geriatric goat gal or goat guy. But yeah, there’s a lot of things that I think about when it comes to geriatric care and geriatric disease.

Michael Pesato 4:35
One of the things I tend to stress to my students and my clients is that age is not a disease, but with advanced age comes more advanced disease presentation, and I think it’s really important to start off with an age-related arthritis discussion. As you all know, as we get older as mammals, our bones and joints, just from the gravity of the planet pushing down on us every day, we start to get some wear and tear. And that happens the same to our livestock friends. So goats that are mobile throughout their entire life—which is what we hope for all of our goats—as time goes on, we’ll start to see some degenerative joint changes. We’ll see where the cartilage starts to kind of wear away; where we start to get what we call “osteophytes,” or bony protuberances, kind of coming off of our joint spaces; and that arthritis can affect the animal anywhere, with degenerative arthritis.

Michael Pesato 5:29
So, just like in humans, we can see arthritic limbs. So seeing the, you know, major joints of the legs. We see arthritis in the spine. And sometimes what I’ve seen with older goats, especially older goats that are having a hard time getting up, and the legs seem normal, everything seems normal, but this is a, you know, 12-, 13-, 14-, 15-year-old goat that is having a hard time getting up, occasionally what we’ll find is that their spine has arthritis. So, trying to navigate through that pain gets more and more challenging. And, as with any livestock species, goats are really good about hiding things until it becomes too late. And so, many of our farm animal species will try to avoid showing, you know, a great deal of pain. Now, we know goats can be very dramatic as well. So, not to say that they are similar to, you know, every species, but I will tell you that any stoic animal will do really well at hiding its pain.

Michael Pesato 6:22
So, degenerative joint issues, typically, are going to be affecting any animal that has had a long life of movements. And so, we’re seeing degenerative joint changes when these animals are nearing the upper digits—you know, we’re looking at double digits, like 10, 11. Sometimes if you’re unlucky, your genetics are unlucky, and conformation was a problem—which, that does happen. In younger animals, we have animals that are what we call “post-legged,” or very straight in the back legs. Or maybe they have some kind of angular limb deformity; when they were born, something was off. Or there was something that made them bow out or go in. That kind of chronic issue starts to wear on the joints in a different way than what it would if it were normal. And some of the times, those animals will show you arthritic changes prior to that double-digit area. So, you might see that when they’re getting into like 6, 7 years old. And, typically these arthritic changes that are degenerative, like I said, they’re not necessarily going to target or affect one joint in particular; it’ll start to be multiple joints affected at the same time.

Michael Pesato 7:25
Now, Deborah brought up a really good differential, or point, that we need to talk about, which is CAE—Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis virus. This is a virus that most of our animals are going to contract, basically, immediately following birth. There is no current research showing that goats are able to get this virus while they’re in utero. Typically, they are born healthy, but then when they consume colostrum from the affected dam, the goat kids then become affected, and this virus stays subclinical. It doesn’t cause any changes or problems in the baby goat kids—at least with the arthritic form—until they are at least 2 to 3 years of age. Now, there is an encephalitic form, which is a whole other topic we can talk about again, but that may affect baby kids when they’re less than 6 months. Typically, they’re like 2 to 4 months of age. But for the arthritis, that’s not a young baby disease, but it often comes before degenerative joint change would come for older gas or guys.

Michael Pesato 7:27
And with the Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis virus, we typically—not always—but we typically see is the knee joint, or the carpus—which is the front knee—as a big target area. So, it actually has a colloquial name, or a layperson name, of “big knee disease,” because we see large swelling in the carpi of the goat. And these changes are kind of insidious. So, where degenerative joint disease, you may be able to help control with anti-inflammatories, this arthritic viral arthritis is going to cause severe joint degeneration in maybe a bit quicker timeframe than the degenerative joint disease. And so, we’ll see these joints kind of break down faster and faster with this virus and become more compromised as time goes on. So typically, any animal that is over 2 to 3 years old can develop arthritis due to CAE, which is a very different presentation than your 6, 7, 8 or 10, 11, 12 degenerative joint disease goats that are old age and wear and tear.

Deborah Niemann 9:28
Okay. And then, so if you have an older goat that is having trouble standing up and things like that, what can we do for them?

Michael Pesato 9:37
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, the unfortunate reality for most goats is that pain medication, like what we would take—like an ibuprofen or an aspirin—there’s nothing really on-label for a goat to take. There’s some stuff we could do in the environment to make life easier—things that we would do for any animal that’s having issues as they age. Maybe taking out large stepping areas where they have to get up onto. Removing things that are slippery from their environment. So, we like to bet in straw. But, if straw gets to be really slick on a concrete floor, an animal that slips and falls, it could be deadly at that stage, with that advanced age. So, we might want to avoid things like that, that make the environment a little bit more dangerous.

Michael Pesato 10:19
In terms of treatment options, the best thing you can do is work with your veterinarian. There are medications available that are considered off-label, and those medications have to be prescribed via veterinarian, but they are very efficacious when it comes to control of some of these degenerative joint changes. And one of my favorites is meloxicam. We use meloxicam in human medicine, for humans with pain. It’s a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory. It is not an approved pain medication for goats, so it is considered extra-label drug use and does require a veterinarian’s prescription. I definitely do not recommend going and feeding your goat your meloxicam from your medicine cabinet. Not a good idea. Work with your veterinarian, and they can prescribe you the meloxicam—which is very safe for goats, fortunately. And what it basically does is, it acts as an aspirin, ibuprofen, would for us. And in my experience, goats can have—at home, when they’re in their kind of comfort zone—they can have meloxicam once a day for the rest of their lives, if they need it.

Michael Pesato 11:25
Now, of course, it is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory. There are risks with that, as there are with any nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory. So, we worry about gastric ulceration, we worry about possible kidney degeneration, we also worry about blood thinning. But to be honest, in most of these cases, these old goats are either going to die because they can’t get up, and can’t move around, and they can’t do their daily function; or they’re going to succumb to the treatment that we’re trying to use on them. And so, the question we have to ask ourselves is: quality of life. What is going to give them the best quality of life? And so, for me, you know, I have found that using something like meloxicam—which is an oral treatment for them—and working with your veterinarian to attain that, could be very, very helpful for your old gal or guy, and just can make them comfortable for the rest of their days in, you know, their golden years.

Deborah Niemann 12:16
Yeah. I think that is not something that most of us picture as being an end-of-life problem for our goats, that they can’t stand. But it was a concept I got introduced fairly early in my goat-owning years, because the person I bought my first goats from became a mentor to me. She had been raising goats for about 20 years when she sold me my goats. And, around the 25-year point is when she decided to call it quits. And she said one of the things that kind of put her over the edge was having to put down one of her senior goats, because she had arthritis that was so bad, she could no longer stand.

Michael Pesato 12:17

Deborah Niemann 12:24
And she was just like, “I can’t do this anymore.” Like, and so, and meloxicam is something that we gave my dog in the last few months of his life. But one of the things that really helped him—because he lived to be 15—was, I think, he was around 12 or so when, all of a sudden, he couldn’t walk up the stairs anymore. And the vet suggested glucosamine chondroitin supplements for him. And within, like, a few days, he was running up and down the stairs again. I was like, “Oh my gosh! This is, like, miracle stuff.”

Michael Pesato 13:25
Right? Right?

Deborah Niemann 13:26
Can we give that to goats?

Michael Pesato 13:28
Yeah. Those are completely—glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate—those are things that are completely benign for goats. They’re definitely not going to hurt anything. The challenge we have with goats, with oral anything, is the rumen. And the way that the rumen functions, you know, it is the largest compartment of the stomach in the ruminant. And it, of course, is the mixing vat, with all the bacteria and protozoa. And so oral products, essentially, we don’t use any antimicrobials, antibiotics, things like that, for that reason. But anything else that’s oral, things like sucralfate, which is something that we can use to kind of coat the GI, doesn’t work well, because it gets in the rumen, and the rumen kind of gets rid of it, before it can make it to the acid stomach, which is the abomasum.

Michael Pesato 14:09
And I think with our joint supplements, there hasn’t been—at least in my experience—there hasn’t been a lot of research, necessarily, showing that they are completely efficacious. And I don’t think that that rules them out. To be honest, I think that, in terms of providing quality of life, if it’s not going to hurt them, we should just try it. We also make injectable products for the animals that require them—animals that maybe don’t eat things well. Dogs or cats, etc. So, we do have injectable forms of hyaluronic acid and things like that. And I think that that could be a possible alternative to the oral products.

Michael Pesato 14:48
What I normally recommend to my clients is: Try it. If it’s not going to hurt them, give it a shot. Like I said, just because there’s not necessarily a published research project saying that with 100% accuracy it’s going to work, doesn’t mean that it won’t work a little bit. And anything you could do to make them more comfortable could be very helpful and extend, you know, the amount of time that you have with them, and their comfort level in that timeframe.

Deborah Niemann 15:14
Yeah. And it was so obvious that it helped my dog. And like, you couldn’t even pet him. Like, you touched him, and he would yelp. And I know one time when I went on a business trip and came home, I went to pet him, and he yelped, and I’m like… I knew my husband had forgotten to give him his glucosamine.

Michael Pesato 15:31
Right? Right, exactly.

Deborah Niemann 15:33
You know, and I was like, “You forgot!”

Michael Pesato 15:35
“I can tell!” Yeah. And I, truly, I do feel that, and it’s something that I present on things like arthritis. I do present on, like, Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis. I’ve had some clients that have older animals with that disease as well. The only thing we can do for that is supportive care, as well. So, I think that using joint supplements is always a good option, and it’s something to try. And if it’s not working, that’s when you kind of reach for something that may be a more intense pain reliever, and that’s where you come in with something like a meloxicam.

Deborah Niemann 16:04
Yeah. The rumen definitely messes things up for us.

Michael Pesato 16:08
Yes, very much.

Deborah Niemann 16:09
It just complicates everything!

Michael Pesato 16:11
It really does! As a ruminant specialist, it’s something that I love, but it’s something that does create a challenge when it comes to selecting medications for use, for sure.

Deborah Niemann 16:23
Yeah. Well, it’s good to know, at least, that it can’t hurt them.

Michael Pesato 16:37
Absolutely. Yep.

Deborah Niemann 16:38
So, you can try it and see.

Michael Pesato 16:30
Absolutely. I would definitely… You know, I think it’s something, if you’re at your end of your rope and need to tie a knot and hold on, that could be a knot to tie. And it’s something that you can try. And, like I said, it’s—I don’t think it’s extremely expensive, either. It’s something that you can give and see how they respond.

Deborah Niemann 16:46
So, the next thing I wanted to talk about is something that I have actually experienced before, although it was not with an old goat. You know, you mentioned bad genetics a little while ago. And I’m not sure how this happened. This goat, she was, like, about the fourth or fifth generation born on my farm, and I have never seen this in another goat. But one day, one of our interns said, “Oh, I just love Agnes’ snaggletooth.” And I’m like, “What are you talking about? None of my goats has a snaggletooth.” And she’s like, “Oh, yeah, it’s so cute, that tooth that just sticks out.” And I’m like, “Uh, show me what you’re talking about.” And I went, and she had a tooth, like, sticking out.

Michael Pesato 17:32

Deborah Niemann 17:33
One of her front lower teeth was sticking out. And I touched it, and it was very loose. And I realized, all of her front teeth were very loose. And she was only 6 years old.

Michael Pesato 17:44
Right, right.

Deborah Niemann 17:44
And this was basically the beginning of the end for her. All of her front teeth wound up falling out over the next couple of years. I don’t know how many of her back teeth fell out?

Michael Pesato 17:55

Deborah Niemann 17:56
You can talk about how hard it is to look in a goat’s mouth.

Michael Pesato 17:59

Deborah Niemann 17:59
But she wound up dying when she was… I mean, the last time I bred her, she was 8. She could not even feed triplets. She couldn’t produce enough milk; she got really skinny.

Michael Pesato 18:10

Deborah Niemann 18:11
I tried soaking alfalfa pellets for her, which she refused to eat. And so, I tried senior horse feed, because that, like, you can crumble that between your fingers, it’s so soft.

Michael Pesato 18:23
Exactly. Exactly.

Deborah Niemann 18:24
But that was really… I just could not do a lot for her. And so, I know this is something that people don’t usually see in a goat her age, but you certainly can see it in senior goats, too. So, what are some of the things that people can do when their goat is just not able to eat like it used to?

Michael Pesato 18:41
Yeah. That’s a really great point. You know, and I think what’s important to remember is that our, you know, goats—unlike horses—they don’t continually erupt their teeth throughout life. So, like us, the ones they get are the ones that they get. So, once they get their adult teeth that grown in, they end up having, you know, to keep those for however long they’re going to have them. So, when we talk about tooth loss… Now there’s—depending on where you are in the country—you may have a similar situation to Deborah, where they actually start to lose their teeth earlier. So for example, in places with lots of sand—so coastal areas, Florida, places that have a lot of sandy soil—the teeth will actually tend to wear down a lot faster than places that do not have as much sand content, more clay-like soil that doesn’t necessarily kind of wear it away. You can imagine it like eating sandpaper. As horrible as it sounds, it’s kind of what happens. So, we start to see, you know, potential for younger animals to have that tooth loss.

Michael Pesato 19:35
And, you know, the dentition of the ruminants, they have only bottom incisors. So, they don’t have any top incisors. And those bottom incisors are really, really important for being able to prehend or grab onto grass and forage and browse, and be able to put that into their mouth. And then, of course, they use the combination of their molars and their dental pad—that toothless top—and their incisors to kind of mash it up. So, if you’re missing those incisors, then you start to worry about the possibility that the animal cannot get to any kind of growing forage. So, the browse and the graze that you would get, the grass that you would get, from the pasture. And so, really what we have to focus on with animals that have very bad dentition—and that could be what we talked about with wear and tear. I’ve seen some animals with malocclusions, meaning that their jaws do not go together right. So, this would be your animal that has, like, a slight kind of sideways jaw. When you look at them, their lower jaw sticks out to the side. Animals that have an underbite or an overbite also can have some issues. The underbite is probably the more concerning, because if their jaws are not aligned for them to get the grasp that they need, then, you can imagine, that the further back their jaw is from the top, the longer the grass has to be for them to have access to it; the shorter it gets, the harder it is to grab onto.

Michael Pesato 20:55
So, when you have animals that have dentition issues like that, the key element here is supplementation. You know, most of the time, with a healthy animal that has a full set of teeth, they can be on browse, graze, pasture for the majority of the year. And depending where you are in the country, of course, when it gets hot like it is right now in Mississippi, it might be challenging to have your animals out grazing. When it gets really, really cold and snowy, where you don’t have good pasture that’s accessible, then you might have to supplement in that regard. So, you might be supplementing once or twice a year. But with these older animals, you may need to supplement your browse. And that supplement is going to vary. So, you heard Deborah just say a few things that were possibilities when it comes to supplementation, from soaking pellets to make a soft mash, to soaking something like an Equine Senior, which is a grain that is made, literally, for older horses whose teeth are not functioning as well. Now, we know goats can be picky, sometimes. As much as an indiscriminate eater as they are—you know, seemingly—there can be some animals that are very picky. So, that might not go as well. You can soak pretty much anything. You can soak sweet feed, or the grain that they get normally, and try to make that into a mash, because there are pelleted elements to that as well. You also could soak hay, if you wanted to just wet down some of the hay and see if that helps anything in terms of taking it.

Michael Pesato 22:11
Now, I would say, hay quality becomes a big concern with your geriatric animals. Really, we have to think about the, essentially, age of the hay that we’re feeding. So maturity. Maybe it’s a better word for that. Maturity of the hay that we’re feeding. If the hay is very, very mature, and there’s a lot of stem and not a lot of soft kind of leafy structure, that hay is gonna be challenging for that animal to eat, because they don’t have anything to break it down. And if it’s a younger hay—a less mature hay—that has leaves and soft kind of elements to it, it’s a little bit easier to eat. So, things like alfalfa has a lot of leaves to it; it’s a lot of softer structure, if you get a decently younger quality or a less mature cutting. So, the benefit of supplementation cannot be ignored. It’s something that, being able to provide that added nutrition that they would normally get from a pasture-based system, or from being out and browsing forage, comes into play as a little bit less than what they should be getting.

Michael Pesato 22:23
So, and this kind of ties in with our degenerative joint disease that we talked about, too. If an animal is unable to walk the pastures anymore to get appropriate browse or graze, then we end up seeing them start to lose condition as well. So, you may find that this supplementation of an older animal, providing them with an easily accessible feed stuff that is soft, easily mashed with or without teeth—and you can trick them. You can mix a little bit of molasses in if you need to, if you know that they’re very picky about certain things, at least to get them started, and then you can go ahead and start offering, you know, with less and less and less of the molasses or mixer.

Michael Pesato 23:55
But again, it goes back to the discussion of: What’s going to take this animal down a bad path? The fact that they can’t eat and they’re arthritic? Or the fact that they’re getting some molasses in their food every day? You know, and I think we have to ask ourselves that question with geriatric animals, quality-of-life-wise, that we may do things that we don’t normally do for our production-based animals. So, key to this: supplementation, and making sure that that access is constantly there, and making sure that your animal is as comfortable as possible trying to access that food, as well.

Deborah Niemann 24:25
Yeah. Those are some really good points. And I’m glad that you pointed out that, like, we don’t normally give molasses to animals.

Michael Pesato 24:32

Deborah Niemann 24:32
But if this is the only way you can get them to eat, then it’s the lesser of two evils. So.

Michael Pesato 24:37
Exactly. Exactly. I know that it seems like, sometimes, with this discussion, it’s like, “Wow, that’s a lot of work to take care of a geriatric animal.” And it is. It’s a lot of work. These are animals that are, you know, unable to kind of do what they used to do for themselves. And it’s one of those things where you as the producer or the client or the, you know, the owner has to make a decision of whether you want to continue to kind of make sure this animal nurses along, or if you want to let them, you know, go to the great pasture in the sky, if you will.

Deborah Niemann 25:07
Yeah, exactly. You know, if you’ve ever had a dog get old—which, sometimes I feel like I was very lucky in the past that, like, most of our dogs, like, had a quick end. Because last year, we had a dog who lived to be 15. And for the last 9 months of his life, could not control his bowels. And so, I mean, that was a lot of work. Like… And so yeah, I mean, it’s just, you know, if you have pets, then you don’t know how it’s gonna end for them.

Deborah Niemann 25:37
And I know with our goats, like, I just always kind of hope… Like, the goat that lived to be 16 and a half? That was like, just my ideal. You know, I’m like, I couldn’t be sad when she died, because it’s like, it was so perfect. Like, we went to let the goats in one night, and she didn’t come in, and we went looking for her. And she was just… I mean, it looked like she was curled up sleeping.

Michael Pesato 25:58
Fell asleep? Yeah.

Deborah Niemann 25:58
You know? So, I mean, it was like, “Oh, my gosh, she had such a perfect life.”

Michael Pesato 26:02

Deborah Niemann 26:03
And it’s wonderful when it goes like that, but it unfortunately, does not for every animal.

Michael Pesato 26:08
Exactly. You know, I think the majority of people would say that they have had an experience like that. And then, there’s a lot of people that say, “Oh, no, my experience was horrible.” You know, I mean, “I had to watch them…” Like you said, with your dog. The same similar situation has happened. I’ve had clientele that had geriatric goats that were just chronically lame, and we had them on all kinds of things to try and stop. We thought maybe they were suffering from the viral arthritis. We tested for it; it was negative. They just had degenerative joint disease, you know? And it’s just one of those things that there was a lot of trial and error that came in to trying to make them comfortable and happy. And it is. It is so much work. But for those clientele that wanted to do that, it was worth it for them. And they were very happy to have more time with that animal, because that animal had been a big part of their life for 15 years, you know?

Michael Pesato 26:58
So, it’s definitely something that, if you’ve had a pet, a dog, a cat, or something like that, you’ve experienced it with that animal, it’s something that’s not much different when it comes to these goats that are retired from their productive life.

Deborah Niemann 27:11
Yeah, exactly. Now, I know, as we are recording this, a horrendous heatwave is coming across the United States. And at the moment, I am really grateful that I don’t have any senior animals. I think my oldest… Well, they are senior, but they don’t seem senior to me, since you know, I’ve had some lived to 15 or 16. I think the oldest ones I have out there now are, like, maybe 12. Because actually, unfortunately, I did have three much older goats who did not make it through the winter. It was kind of the same thing. You know, it’s like, just one morning, we went out there, and they were dead. And so, I know right now, like, I am worried enough about my young, healthy animals surviving in this 90- to 100-degree heat, and I know some parts of the country, it’s even surpassing 100.

Deborah Niemann 28:03
Like, if you have really any animal, and like, is there anything extra we need to be concerned about with our senior animals?

Michael Pesato 28:10
Yeah, absolutely. I think, again, this is a great point to bring up. So topical. Because we are indeed experiencing this wild heatwave. And I know right now, here in Mississippi, I think it’s like 96 and feels like 106. And tomorrow, I think it’s gonna be like 98 degrees or something. So, it is very, very hot. And yeah, the challenge with the animals that are geriatric or very young is that they don’t necessarily handle environmental swings like this very well. You know, I will make a point about maybe an older animal that is in a different kind of realm of what we consider older animals being. Normally we think older animals might be thin, but there are a lot of animals that have been supplemented their entire lives. And they are, therefore, a little obese. Those animals, they do not handle the heat as well as our animals that are in better body condition. It’s almost like when they’re really, really fat, the heat is much more challenging. And when they’re really, really thin, the cold is much more challenging. And basically, you know, it takes a lot to try and cool an animal down, a person down.

Michael Pesato 29:09
Goats don’t normally sweat, like we see sweating from horses, and so their thermoregulation is not as efficient as our thermoregulation would be. You know, we rarely see a goat running around outside, or a cow running around outside, with sweat-soak on their back; they just don’t have the sweat glands like we do, necessarily. So, when it comes to extreme heat, I think the important thing is shade. Absolutely. I think, when I see a pasture with no shade, no way to escape the sun, that’s very concerning for me. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t want to be in a situation like that. But any mammal is going to want somewhere to kind of escape from the sun, get out of the bright, and it’s amazing, even at 90 degrees, 98 degrees, how much cooler it is in the shade. So, we have to kind of take that into consideration.

Michael Pesato 29:55
If you have a barn, you have a place with electricity, getting fans is never a bad idea. Of course, anything you add to barn or to an area that has straw or hay or wood has a fire risk, but honestly, if you have a solid electrical grid out there, getting some fans is so helpful for multiple reasons. One, it’s helpful to kind of circulate air as best as possible. Two, it helps fly control. So, another big issue we deal with in the summertime, of course, is flies. And if an animal is down and can’t get up really well, or lays there, maybe has manure surrounding it, the flies can be just as annoying as a very hot time of year. The other thing too, if they’re indoors, make sure that there’s some kind of ventilation happening. So, if they have a barn or shed or something, make sure that windows are propped open so that air flows through the barn. And that will allow for some kind of ventilation, some kind of breezeway effect, that’s going to help decrease some of the heat issues in these these animals.

Michael Pesato 30:54
If push comes to shove—and we do this a lot for, obviously, animals that are heavily fleeced. So like, animals like Angora goats, for example, or if we’re going to work with sheep or alpacas or llamas. Shearing. Shaving. Shaving down, and getting some of the hair off of these animals. You don’t have to do your whole herd, but maybe if you have one, geriatric animal that seems to struggle with the heat, shaving that animal down, getting that hair, that excess hair off—because sometimes our older animals, they don’t shed out their winter coats as well, either. They tend to, you know, not necessarily—especially if they’re not as mobile. If they’re not walking and rubbing and kind of getting rid of some of that down coat that they have from the winter. So, going in and trying to brush or shave that animal and get some of that hair off them is important.

Michael Pesato 31:37
And then, if you really want to, there’s something that we use oftentimes in dairy cattle—especially kind of commercial conventional dairy cattle. We use misters, and water sources. And so, if you have a spray bottle, and you go out there and just spritz some of your animals, that effect of the evaporation off of the skin is cooling. So, if you have some kind of ability to do that, if you have, like a, or you spray them down—I wouldn’t recommend going out there and spraying everything with the hose. I think they might freak out, if you spray them all with a hose. But, if you have some kind of misting ability, when they’re in the barn, you just give them a nice little mist of a spray bottle in the heat, the hottest time of the day, some of that can help with controlling some of that heat.

Michael Pesato 32:16
Now, obviously, heat can be deadly, but so can cold. And I know that it’s kind of weird to talk about cold right now, but I just want to make a point that what Deborah said is is very accurate. Unfortunately, with many geriatric animals, we consider the winter to be one of the most challenging times. And a lot of times we say, you know, “I don’t know if that animal is gonna make it through the winter.” And I’ve had clientele who put down animals before winter, just because they know that they won’t do very well. As you may experience yourself, when it gets very cold, your bones and joints tend to ache a little bit more. And if you’re suffering from arthritis, you’re going to be much more debilitated in the cold time of year. And then, of course, if these animals are thin, their ability to maintain body temperature is a lot less than an animal that has a good flesh, or a good body condition. And so, we’ll often see our animals that have a lot of metabolic draw from their body trying to heat it up in the wintertime, that they’re not really taking in as much nutrients as they need to kind of make sure that they can keep themselves regulated. So, these really thin older animals that have mobility issues, that have other issues, they tend to suffer in the wintertime, and they may even die due to the fact that there’s just not enough oomph left in them to kind of get through that time of year.

Michael Pesato 33:31
So, right now, I think the biggest thing, though, with this heatwave coming through, is just to watch your animals closely. If you notice that your animals are struggling, or if you notice that they are… You know, for me, I get concerned about open-mouth breathing. And when I see an animal that’s just laying down on the ground and not really being stressed, that’s something that would be a little concerning. Maybe you should look at trying to move those animals to an area that maybe is a little bit cooler. And then, of course, I would warn against aggravating them, or working them up right now. So, if you’re gonna go out there and try and trim feet, it may not be the best time to do it if it’s 98 degrees and you’re chasing all around the barn, because you’re gonna suffer, and so are they. So, keep that in mind, you know, as this heatwave… I mean, I personally, as a veterinarian, I’m a little slow, looking at my calendar here. I’m a little slow this week. And I’m not surprised, because not only do people not want to be out there, but I also don’t want to schedule a ton of appointments where I’m going to work up a bunch of animals, and then end up having them go into heat exhaustion or heat stress.

Michael Pesato 34:28
And heat can kill an animal. We see dogs—many times dogs go into emergency rooms with temperatures of 107 or more. There’s a certain point where the temperature is so high that it will fry a brain. So, we have to be very cognizant of that. Fortunately, I mean, goats can get very hot and be okay. So, don’t panic, as they’re probably not going to get fried just by sitting out in the sun. But, if we go out there to work those animals and try to get them, you know, worked up, we might end up with some issues.

Deborah Niemann 34:55
Yeah. That’s a really good point.

Deborah Niemann 34:58
Is there anything else about senior goats that we haven’t talked about that you think people should be aware of?

Michael Pesato 35:04
Yeah, I think one more thing I just always love to bring up with senior animals is neoplasia, or cancer. You know, it’s something that… Most reports out there about cancer and goats are pretty few and far between. And a lot of it is exactly what Deborah had mentioned. Like, it’s hard to find animals that are living very long, to get enough data or information set to put out anything on cancers or common cancers. And so, one of the things that I would caution anyone with a geriatric animal: lumps and bumps. Take them a little more seriously. And if you notice that that animal, no matter how much they’re eating, no matter how much you’re providing them with feed, and they’re ravenously consuming all of their supplementation we talked about, if they continue to lose weight, lose weight, lose weight, become emaciated and thin, there may be an underlying problem there. So again, age is not a disease, but age does predispose to more advanced disease. So, it’s something to just kind of be aware of. And, if you feel that that animal is just not thriving continually for a while, months, years, after you’ve been trying to feed them and make them feel better, there may be a time to say, you know, “This animal may be suffering from something a little deeper than what I think.”

Michael Pesato 36:09
I’ve seen everything from lymphoma, to I had a goat with a rumen mass that ended up being a spindle cell tumor in the rumen. That ended up ultimately leading to its demise. I had a… Uterine cancers are very common in females. So uterine cancers, I’ve seen one cause inappropriate udder development in a goat before. So, there’s some stuff, if it’s a really elderly animal, and you’re seeing something very strange there, I always tell my students, “Cancers can do anything.” So don’t be, you know, surprised if that animal develops something as it just gets older. That’s probably one of the most common things that will end up taking out a lot of our geriatric animals is cancer. Similar to us.

Deborah Niemann 36:48
Exactly. Well, thank you so much for joining us today! This has been really informative. And so, I feel like I got a little more information, you know, as some of my goats get older again. And then, also when people contact me about, you know, how to help their older goats to be more comfortable in their golden years. So, I think this has been a very helpful episode. Thanks for joining us!

Michael Pesato 37:12
Of course. Thanks again for inviting me, and if anyone has any questions or concerns, feel free to reach out. And I appreciate you welcoming me back!

Deborah Niemann 37:20
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit ForTheLoveOfGoats.com, and you can follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next time. Bye for now!

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6 thoughts on “Older Goats: Arthritis, Dental Issues, and More”

  1. Deborah,
    My gosh, what an excellent program to be able to listen to since my beloved Macchiata is 9 years old and Capriolina is 7 and diagnosed with a uterine cyst, periodically bleeding vaginally. I have opted to not do surgery and she has been remarkably well and active and more affectionate.

    This program has been so helpful to me.

    Thanking you, as always.

  2. Thank you Deborah as always, another excellent podcast on a much needed topic. The vet was here this morning and diagnosed one of my older goats with lymphoma. Now we will keep her happy and comfortable for as long as we can.

    • I am so sorry to hear that! You are the second person in a month to have a goat diagnosed with lymphoma. So sad! I’m sure she’ll get lots of love in her final days.

  3. Thank you so much, Deborah! Needed much of this info to help our 12 year old whether. He was our first baby so very special to us.
    I am curious about something. We have never had an animal die of “old age”. They have always reached a point where their quality of life was so affected by a chronic ailment that we put them down to alleviate their suffering. A possibly morbid topic, but I am curious as to what the ratio might be with animal owners.

    • Hi Margie

      We are so glad that the information was helpful and timely for you.

      I’m sorry- but I do not understand what your question is in the last part of your post.



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