For the Love of Goats
Although melanoma in goats is quite rare, it is devastating when it does happen because there is no cure. In this episode, we are talking to Julie Jarvis PA-C, a retired Dermatology Physician Assistant who practiced human medicine for 21 years. She has also been a goat farmer since 2004, and one of her goats was recently diagnosed with melanoma.
In my post on squamous cell carcinoma, I talked about how easy it is to misdiagnose it, and the same is true of melanoma. Since Julie had 21 years experience in human dermatology, she knew something was seriously wrong when she saw what most people would have assumed was an injury or hoof rot.
Julie goes into detail about what she saw and what she did, as well as the research she found on melanoma in goats.
Some links to studies and sunscreens
- An Animal Model for Human Melanoma – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8806233/
- Skin Cancer in Angora Goats – https://www.angoras.co.za/article/skin-cancer-in-angora-goats
- Melanocytic Tumors in Cattle – https://tvmdl.tamu.edu/2019/01/17/melanocytic-tumors-in-cattle/
- Spontaneously occurring melanoma in animals and their relevance to human melanoma – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7497193/
- Malignant Melanomas in Farm Animals – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6230527/
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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 gonna be really exciting—definitely a little different—because our guest today is a retired dermatology physician’s assistant for humans. She practiced for 21 years, and she’s also been raising goats since 2004. Today’s guest is Julie Jarvis. Welcome to the show today, Julie!
Julie Jarvis 0:39
Hi there. I’m glad to be here. I, for some reason, still want to do dermatology on my goats.
Deborah Niemann 0:48
Yeah! It was so weird, because it sounds strange to say this, but this situation could not have happened to a better goat breeder, because I don’t think I would have recognized what was going on in this situation—or most goat breeders. But, it turns out, you had a goat with melanoma, which is really rare. So, why don’t you just go ahead and tell the story of, like, what happened with your goat and how you found out it was melanoma.
Julie Jarvis 1:14
Okay. So, my goats name was Ella. And she was nine years old. This started this May. So, just recently. She was a mini Toggenburg. And so, she… I just noticed that she was limping one day, on one of her rear legs. So, that was a little bit unusual, because I’m used to my goats having a little bit of hoof rot. We’re in the Pacific Northwest near Seattle, so it’s very wet most of the time here. And so, they will limp from time to time. But I thought, “Well, it’s time for trimming hooves.” So, I got her up on the stand. And on that hoof, I thought she injured herself on a stick or a fence or something, because there was a spot that wanted to just bleed and bleed and bleed. And it was a very strange, spongy type of a growth out of the front of the hoof. And, thinking it was just an infection or injury, I kind of treated with antibiotics and wrapped it really tightly with some Blood Stop powder and hoped for the best.
Julie Jarvis 2:24
But, every time I would unwrap it, it was still just oozing and bleeding easily. She wasn’t bothered by it; it wasn’t painful. But I kept rewrapping it every couple of days, and it just wasn’t getting any better. So, then I remembered that I knew how to biopsy things. So, I actually was able to numb her hoof up—because I have local anesthetic around—and take off the lump. And in our state, the farmers or animal owners are legally able to do any procedures on their own animals. Not the same in all states like that. So, we don’t get any problems with doing things like disbudding or other little procedures on our own animals without a vet there; some states it’s a stricter rule. But anyway, I sent in the sample, because it did look unusual, and I wasn’t sure what it was, and I wanted to know what it was. And then, that took a week or two to come back from the state vet lab, which is nice—and our state also lets owners send in their own blood or their own samples for testing.
Julie Jarvis 3:44
So, I got the report on June 13, and turns out it was melanoma—which is really, really rare, like you said—and the pathology report did say that they likely metastasize, which means spread to other areas of the body. And melanoma in humans is very deadly. Luckily, there are some newer treatments that are helpful. But, when I first started in dermatology, it was pretty much a death sentence for humans. So, when I talked with my vet, we decided that the best thing for Ella would be to humanely euthanize her. So, that’s what we ended up doing. But, by that time, the lesion had grown four times the size; it was taking over the whole hoof and very unusual. So, I’m going to send you the photos that you can post in your show notes.
Deborah Niemann 4:39
Oh, that’ll be awesome! I’m sure people will be very interested in seeing what that looks like.
Julie Jarvis 4:44
It’s a little gory, but just crazy how fast it grew and how destructive it was. Actually, it broke through the hoof wall and just was eating away at the whole, like, keratin of the hoof. So, the vet and I decided that with it bleeding all the time, it was just kind of unmanageable to keep going with that, and then likely it would metastasize and start cause her some other symptoms. She was very healthy, other than that, so we just decided that it was best to let her go when she was not sick. So. But my vet out here, which I was going to mention that if you can find a vet that may not be strictly a goat vet—we don’t have those around here much. But the vets that I use, they are cattle vets for their main business. They do know a lot about goats as well. So they’re very, very helpful. And they’re very good to come out. So, if you—you know, people—can find a vet that is good at sheep or cattle, they’ll be able to expand their expertise to goats, too.
Deborah Niemann 6:03
Is there any kind of treatment? Would there have been any kind of treatment for melanoma, if you wanted to go that route?
Julie Jarvis 6:08
So, with her, with it being on her hoof and not healing, the treatment for her would have been to probably amputate that leg, which just was so extreme that I did not want to put her through that. Goats can survive with, you know, with one leg missing, just like, you know, dogs. There’s three-legged dogs, and I’ve even seen deer and elk surviving on three legs, but I did not want to put her through that, and, like, myself through that. Which, you know, you have to consider how much work you can spend, time you can spend, treating as well. So, and the cost, you know, because that’s always, unfortunately, a concern when we’re trying to have a lot of goats.
Deborah Niemann 7:03
Was it a front hoof or rear hoof?
Julie Jarvis 7:05
It was on her rear, one of her rear hooves in the front wall of it. So, it was unusual. Like, you know, once I started trimming her hoof, I was like, “I’ve never seen something there before.” You know, when you have bad hooves, the stuff will get in on the sides, or, you know, the sides may have to be trimmed away back or something, but not the very front of it, you know? So, it was it was unusual that way, too.
Julie Jarvis 7:34
So, I would just say, if anyone has an unusual growth on their goat—I know you’ve had a previous podcast about the squamous cell carcinoma—it’s probably worth trying to get it taken off, you know, for a biopsy, just because some things are curable by just taking it off.
Julie Jarvis 7:55
So, we had another goat here a few years back, and she had a… It was like a—I mean, I think it was similar to—a wart right by her vulva. And it was after kidding. We noticed that it wasn’t, you know, a spot that would bleed easily. So, that time I had my vet come out and he biopsied it, and then it turned out to be a benign growth called a fibropapilloma, which is sort of like a wart. But, I do think that those are probably precursors to squamous cell, but she’s fine. She never had any problem after that. So, I kind of think if I would have let it go, it probably would have turned into a squamous cell.
Deborah Niemann 8:41
The case of this particular goat, Ella, it’s just so interesting that it was on the bottom of her hoof. And, I think most of us would have just assumed that it was a really, really bad case of hoof rot. Because—
Julie Jarvis 8:54
Deborah Niemann 8:55
—that’s what it sounds like.
Julie Jarvis 8:56
Yeah. It was, like, up in the front. Not, like, really on the bottom of it. It was, like, up near the hair is kind of where it started, but it had destroyed… Like, it looked like she’d split the front of her hoof on something. It, like, opened up the hoof in the front. So, it was very strange-looking.
Deborah Niemann 9:22
All right. And, I know that you did a lot of research after this happened. Do you want to tell us a little bit about the things that you learned about melanoma in goats?
Julie Jarvis 9:33
Yeah. Yeah, I went on, like, a rabbit hole in looking at trying to find out how, you know, maybe they did have a treatment for goat melanoma, or maybe it never metastasized on goats, but I only found a few studies, or a few cases, that they described melanoma in goats. And they really think that it’s more common in white goats, like Angoras. And it makes sense, because they’re, you know, could get more sun damage, because really that’s part of the reason that melanoma starts, is that anything that triggers that melanin in the skin—which is the pigment cells in the skin—to be activated, they can just start growing uncontrollably. And so, you know, white animals, or areas where there’s not as much hair coverage, or light skin.
Julie Jarvis 10:32
So, they said that it was more common, actually, in the area that my goat had it, by the top of the hoof, the coronary band, and the udders. And then, there was one article where it talked about one that was around a goat’s eye, and it was, like, a white Angora goat that they had found one. I did used to have some white Pygora goats, and they did get lots of freckles on their noses, around their eyes, on their tail web. You know, so I, after I read that, I remembered them getting a lot of freckles that they weren’t born with. So, you know, maybe that’s where these things start from.
Julie Jarvis 11:17
The Merck Manual does say kind of the cancer age of goats is 8 or 9 years old. And that was about what my goat was. And the cancer age is an age where an animal… It’s very rare to find cancer below a certain age, just because most cancers take some time to develop. So, I think in dogs, it’s like 10, and other, you know, cows, it’s a different age. And so, they said, it’s, you know, definitely something in older animals.
Julie Jarvis 11:52
And one interesting article said that there was quite a few cases of non-malignant—it’s called “melanosis,” instead of “melanoma”—where it sounds like they were just dark moles growing on a cow that they would take off, and they would be not malignant, but they probably were… If given enough time, they could have gone that that way. So, another article showed dogs can get melanoma on their feet. And they said, 25% of all lesions on dogs’ feet are melanomas, so that was interesting. And, I think that’s about all I could find on… I know the vet said that it was really rare. The new vets that worked there had never heard of it before. So, there was actually a vet student that came out that was shadowing the vet, and she took all the information, and she was going to turn it in for one of her assignments of writing up cases. So, hopefully that gets her a good grade.
Deborah Niemann 13:06
Yeah, that’ll be really interesting! I’m sure that when a vet student gets to see something so rare, that’s definitely an exciting time for them.
Julie Jarvis 13:15
Deborah Niemann 13:17
Did you find anything that said what causes melanoma in goats? I mean, with humans, we always talk about sunburn. But, I mean, this was, like, on her hoof. Like, it probably gets less sun than any part of a goat’s body.
Julie Jarvis 13:32
Yeah. I mean, in humans, we do know that it is more common the more sun that you get. But, there’s plenty of melanoma in humans that just randomly happen. Like, some people get it, you know, on their scalp with a full head of hair, or some people where the sun never shines, on their, you know, buttocks or something. And the only thing I could think of is, this was definitely an area on this goat that, you know, had white hair, and her hoof was not dark. I think she had white hooves. And our area does not get that much sun, so, like, I don’t think hers was from sun.
Julie Jarvis 14:16
But, I did want to mention, especially for people that are clipping their goats for shows, or do live in a super sunny area and have light-colored goats, you can put sunscreen on them. I had heard that just sprinkling baby powder on their back was a good sunscreen, but I just looked that up, and it does not really have… It has, like, SPF 1. So, it’s like, not really anything, but they do make some horse sunscreens. And, I will send you some links, Deborah, of some of the ones that I found. There’s one that I want to find and try on my goats; it’s called EquiShield, and it has zinc, and it has some chlorhexidine for antiseptic, and it has citronella, and aloe. So, it’s like a bug repellent, and soothing, and if they did get sunburned, it would be an antiseptic. So, I thought that was really cool. And they make a lot of sunscreens for dogs. Interestingly, the dog sunscreen does not have the zinc oxide, because I guess if they lick it off their nose, or their feet, or whatever, dogs are sensitive to having too much zinc, and they can get toxic levels of zinc. Now, our goats probably all need more zinc. So, I’m not worried about that part.
Deborah Niemann 15:53
Yeah. And they don’t lick themselves like dogs, either. So, I wouldn’t worry about that.
Julie Jarvis 15:56
No. No. But yeah, I definitely feel like it was lucky to have identified this earlier. I, you know, I definitely would have gotten my vet involved if I couldn’t, you know, have sent it in to the vet lab, because it definitely was something that wasn’t acting normal. So, I just would hope people would be like, if something is not normal, check it out, get a biopsy, see what it is. It wasn’t very expensive for me to get the biopsy done. So, worth knowing.
Deborah Niemann 16:36
Yeah, that’s really good information. You said, if somebody… You know, like you accidentally hit a blood vessel when you’re trimming hooves, it doesn’t bleed that long.
Julie Jarvis 16:45
Deborah Niemann 16:45
If you get hoof rot, even, it doesn’t bleed that long. I mean, we’re talking minutes, not days.
Julie Jarvis 16:52
Right. And, hers would stop bleeding as soon as I put wrap on it. Like, you know, there wasn’t that much blood in the bandage when I would remove it. But, as soon as I opened it up and moved the thing, it would just drip, drip, drip, drip, drip. It was just, if I would have left it unwrapped, she would have probably become anemic within a matter of a couple of days, or, you know, whatever. It was just constant. So, it was just like, “This is just not responding to the normal things that I would think if it was just an injury.”
Deborah Niemann 17:32
Right. Yeah. I mean, usually, if I nick a goat when I’m trimming hooves, I put the Blood Stop powder, I put a big pile of it on the milk stand, because that’s where I trim them. And then, I stick the goats’ hoof in there.
Julie Jarvis 17:42
Deborah Niemann 17:43
And then they’re standing in the Blood Stop powder. And that’s pretty much the end of it.
Julie Jarvis 17:48
And then the pressure. Yeah.
Deborah Niemann 17:49
Yeah, between the pressure and the Blood Stop powder, by the time you’re done, it’s stopped bleeding. So, I think, I guess, the biggest red flag here for people to look for, is if they have something like this on a hoof, it’s just that it’s not gonna stop. Like, it just didn’t stop bleeding for your goat.
Julie Jarvis 18:07
Right. Yeah. The tissue wasn’t normal; it didn’t act normal. And, you know, like, a melanoma could really be anywhere. And so, I guess the other signs, if it was like a big, dark lump showing up somewhere that just looked like a funny dark mole. You know, if you look at the pictures of the end result of this melanoma, it did look like a really big nasty melanoma on a human, as well. They, you know, they look funny-colored and dark.
Deborah Niemann 18:40
Julie Jarvis 18:40
But, here’s an old farmers’ hack for stopping blood, if you can’t find your Blood Stop powder, or it’s not working very well, is if you grab a handful of old cobwebs that we all have in our barns, that is a very good coagulant. And, there’s something in the web that is what the spider uses when they wrap up their prey that dries them up or whatever. But I’ve done that many, many a time. So, you just grab a little handful. It’ll be all dusty and stuff, so you might want to afterwards put some antiseptic on, but it works great to stop, like, hoof-trimming bleeding, or if they headbutt their little disbudding scabs off, or something like that. Some little, you know, bleeding like that, it will stop it right away. That’s my nonmedical advice.
Deborah Niemann 19:42
Is there anything else that you think people need to know about melanoma in goats?
Julie Jarvis 19:48
Um, I would just keep it in the back of your mind, it’s not going to be very common. There’s probably, you know, I think people are going to see a squamous cell carcinoma more commonly, but I think it’s worth checking to see what things are that don’t heal. And then, you know, getting the vet involved when you need to.
Deborah Niemann 20:12
And I think, when I was reading about the squamous cell, it usually happens on hairless parts of the body. But it sounds like melanoma could happen even where there’s hair.
Julie Jarvis 20:22
Yeah. I think that it would be less common, because of the sun connection. You know, it’d be more common on the less hair area. But, you know, again, like, mine was in middle of a hoof. You know, it’d be the same; humans can get melanomas under their fingernails or toenails. It’s not common, but it can happen.
Deborah Niemann 20:44
Julie Jarvis 20:45
So, my goat was just unlucky. And lucky that she didn’t suffer with it, though. So.
Deborah Niemann 20:53
Exactly. Yeah, I think that’s the main reason I like to give people information about something when it’s not curable, because, like, when my goat got squamous cell carcinoma, my vet didn’t know what it was. And the poor goat had suffered for so much longer than she should have, because we were treating her for a skin infection.
Julie Jarvis 21:34
Deborah Niemann 21:16
And I was quote, unquote, “cleaning up” the area. And so, like, the pictures I have of how raw it was because I was cleaning it up, and putting prescription antibiotic ointment on it, and giving her injections… I mean, like, I just made that poor goat miserable, and all for nothing, you know? So, I think sometimes the best thing you can do is just, like, get a definitive diagnosis—
Julie Jarvis 21:40
Deborah Niemann 21:40
—and know you can’t do anything, and the most humane thing to do might be to put the goat down.
Julie Jarvis 21:48
Yeah. Well, in human skin, even, like, a full sickness, laceration, or a surgical wound, it will fully heal in, you know, two weeks. That you can take the stitches out, and it will be healed together. Now, that takes longer if there’s some infection, but not that much longer. Like, maybe another week or so. You know, so like, if you have a wound or something that is really not responding to a course of antibiotics in normal amount—like, I mean, I guess that’s what I was doing. I was giving it some normal amount of time to heal by wrapping it and putting antibiotics on it, and, you know, giving it some time, and then it didn’t heal in a normal amount of time. So then, that’s when I got a biopsy on it. So, anything like that, an infection, if you treat it with antibiotics, it should heal. So, things that don’t heal could be cancerous.
Deborah Niemann 22:53
Right. Exactly. Yeah, you just don’t keep doing the same thing over and over and over again when you’re not getting any results. You’ve got to assume that something else is going on.
Julie Jarvis 23:03
Deborah Niemann 23:04
All right. Well, thanks so much for joining us today!
Julie Jarvis 23:07
Yeah! And hopefully, if I come up with any other unusual goat dermatology, I’ll let you know. But, there are some interesting dermatology things that goats deal with, too.
Deborah Niemann 23:21
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!