Goat Dandruff: How to Treat Flaky Skin in Goats

 

Every spring, my goats start scratching. This itchiness is normal and associated with them shedding their winter coats. When they started scratching in the autumn as well, I started to wonder if something else was wrong. I couldn’t see any mites or other external parasites, but they were clearly losing hair and their skin appeared scaly and flaky, as though they had a bad case of dandruff.  

What causes goat dandruff? Goat dandruff is usually caused by parasites and mineral deficiencies. They will show signs of dry and itchy skin. In addition, stress, hormonal imbalance, and bacterial or fungal infections can also cause dandruff. But that’s not all the reasons. There are some lesser-known reasons for flaky skin and hair loss in your goats that we’ll cover. 

A goat’s skin and coat reflect its state of health. A goat suffering from a mineral deficiency will often develop dry, flaky skin and dandruff. Parasitic infections and hormonal imbalances can also cause a goat to scratch and lose hair.

There’s little point in treating the goat with a medicinal shampoo if the underlying cause is internal.

For this reason, you must understand the possible causes of flaky skin in goats before you employ a treatment protocol. 

9 Common Causes of Dandruff in Goats and How To Treat Them

There are several reasons your goat’s skin becomes flaky and starts to itch. Fortunately, most of these conditions are relatively benign and easy to treat. There are few, however, that require professional diagnosis and prompt treatment to prevent more serious symptoms from developing.

#1 Goats Get Dandruff when they Shed their Winter Coats

Most goat breeds grow thick winter coats to protect themselves from the elements. As spring approaches, they shed these coats. A goat may develop dry, flaky, and itchy skin during this shedding process. Your goats will rub themselves against anything they can find to help loosen the old undercoat and prepare for the latest spring fashion. 

Seasonal shedding is a natural process that occurs each year. Weather temperatures, sunlight exposure, and hormones all affect precisely when and how the shedding occurs. Some goats may lose a lot of hair very quickly, while others shed so slowly you may not even notice. 

Unless a goat develops sores or bare patches or exhibits excessive scratching, there’s no cause for concern. You can brush your goats to speed up the process and give them some relief. 

#2 External Parasites can Cause Itching and Hair Loss in Goats 

External parasites cause discomfort and anxiety, dandruff, dry, itchy skin, and constant scratching. Goats can suffer from several external parasites, including lice, ticks, mites, fleas, and flies. 

Some of these are easier to identify than others simply because the little critters are visible to the naked eye. A microscopic examination is required to identify many of the mites that cause dandruff in goats. However, some goat owners have perfected the art of recognizing a parasite by the area of hair loss. The psoriatic ear mite, for instance, causes scratching, hair loss, and crusty scabs around the ears. 

The psoriatic ear mite causes scabs on the ears (1)

 

Other mites commonly found on goats include:

  • Goat follicle mite – causes skin lesions on the face, neck, and udder
  • Scabies mite – causes extensive hair loss around the eyes, ears, and muzzle
  • Demodectic mite – hair loss extends from the head to the shoulders, flanks, and udder.

If left untreated, a mite infection can cause a severe skin condition or dermatitis, known as mange. This condition causes acute itching and scratching, damage to the skin and coat, weight loss, reduced milk production, and poor growth rates in young stock. 

 

Lice are similarly worrying and cause a goat great distress and anxiety. The worst types are sucking lice, which cause bleeding scabs that are susceptible to bacterial infections. They may also develop anemia, which can be fatal.

Good Management Can Prevent Parasitic Infections

Healthy goats that get a high-energy diet are less susceptible to parasitic infections. Any stress increases a goat’s likelihood of attracting parasites, so minimizing overcrowding can also help prevent them. Use a strict quarantine protocol when introducing new goats to the herd to prevent spread by contact. 

The Best Treatment Protocols for Parasites 

You can treat a parasitic infestation either topically or systemically. Topical treatment is often all you need to rid your herd of biting lice while sucking lice are more difficult to eradicate and usually requires a two-pronged approach.

There are numerous topical treatments available, including natural products such as sulfur and diatomaceous earth. Sprinkling your goat with either of these products will kill any existing lice and prevent further infection. 

Subcutaneous injection of an anti-parasitic drug, like Ivermectin, is effective, especially when dealing with sucking lice or ticks. 

Find out more about parasite-induced itching in our article on 5 Reasons Your Goats are Scratching and What to Do About It.

Demodectic mite causes poor growth rates in young goats (1)

#3 Bacterial and Fungal Infections That Cause Goat Dandruff

Parasitic activity and bacterial infections often go hand-in-hand. The parasite breaks the goat’s sebaceous skin covering, allowing bacteria to enter. Some bacterial infections have characteristics similar to those of fungal skin conditions.  

Dermatophilus congolensis is easily confused with ringworm or tinea. This bacterium causes scabs on the face, muzzles, ears, and tail. When these scabs fall off, they take patches of hair with them, leaving circular bald spots reminiscent of ringworm.

Due to bad weather or a damp environment within their shelter, goats that are exposed to wet conditions are more susceptible to fungal and bacterial infections. In addition to lesions and hair loss, these commonly cause rubbing, scratching, flaky skin, and dandruff.

Antibiotics are the best way of treating bacterial infections, and a 3 to 5-day course of either penicillin or tetracycline is usually effective.  

Ringworm is a troublesome condition as it is highly contagious and can quickly spread throughout the herd. Isolating individuals with the infection can help to contain it. To treat ringworm, clip away the hair surrounding the lesion. Wash with an antiseptic soap or shampoo. Apply a thin layer of anti-fungal cream, or soak a cotton wool ball in undiluted apple cider vinegar and apply to the affected area.

#4 Mineral Deficiencies Associated with Hair Loss and Flaky Skin

A goat losing its hair could have a deficiency in copper, iodine, or zinc. 

Copper Deficiency – Diagnosis and Treatment

Copper is a relatively common deficiency that causes flaky, rough skin and hair loss, and bleaching of the coat. The bleaching is less evident in white goats, but the other symptoms can help diagnose the condition. These include a rough coat, diarrhea, weight loss, and anemia.

 

You can boost your goats’ copper intake by giving them a copper bolus every few months. This small capsule, filled with copper oxide particles, should improve your goats’ condition for around eight months to a year. 

Hide the bolus in your goat’s favorite treat, or wrap it in dried fruit, and your goat might even enjoy taking her medicine. 

A rough or bleached coat is indicative of copper defiency (1)

Identifying and Remedying Iodine Deficiency in Goats

Hair loss is a common early symptom of iodine deficiency. Goats suffering from this condition will also develop a lump a little below the jaw and show signs of fatigue and weakness. An enlarged thyroid gland causes swelling and is responsible for the bulge under the jaw.

Iodine deficiency is common in some parts of the USA. The so-called “goiter belt” runs from the Rocky Mountains, through the Great Lakes area, and into upstate New York. The soil in this area is notoriously iodine deficient, making it a challenging place to raise goats. 

Removing certain foods from your goats’ diet can help prevent and alleviate the symptoms of iodine deficiency. Vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and turnips, belong to the brassica family and inhibit iodine uptake.

You can also increase the amount of iodized salt in your goat’s diet to rectify the problem. While many commercial feeds contain a small percentage of iodized salt, this is rarely enough to combat the problem in iodine-deficient areas. 

Kelp (Amazon) is one of the best ways to increase your goat’s iodine levels and can be mixed with goat minerals (Amazon) to make it more palatable. 

Zinc Deficiency – Signs and Solutions

Low zinc levels cause hair loss, dermatitis, and flaky skin in goats. Zinc deficiency is linked to an excess of calcium in the diet, caused by calcium-rich foods like alfalfa or the disproportionate feeding of mineral supplements.

Because excessive calcium can cause zinc deficiency, many goats suffering from this condition already receive adequate zinc. Therefore, removing the source of the excess calcium is the best way to treat the problem. 

Kelp can help to boost your goat’s zinc intake, so opting for a commercial feed that contains kelp (found on Amazon) is an effective way of treating the problem. 

Healthy goats will have a nice, shiny, flake-free fur (1)

#5 Too Much Selenium Leads to Hair Loss 

Selenium is an essential antioxidant for goats, and too little can be fatal. However, you can have too much of a good thing, and that’s true for selenium. Excess selenium causes diarrhea, hair loss, impaired vision, and weight loss.

Too much selenium causes the skin and hooves to crack and flake. This condition is more common in the following states due to over-concentrations of selenium in the soil:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Idaho
  • New Mexico
  • North & South Dakota 

In these areas, plants growing in alkali-based soils can absorb toxic levels of selenium which the goats then ingest. Over time, goats become addicted to these plants and may even eat themselves to death. Unfortunately, such plants include the type of grasses, grains, and cereals that we commonly feed to goats. 

The best way to determine if this is an issue is to do a plant tissue test. Your local extension office will probably be able to guide you to a testing lab. If your goats face this issue, removing such plants from your goat’s diet is the best way to deal with the problem. However, there is no known treatment for this condition.  

#6 Stress Factors that Contribute to Goat Dandruff 

A goat can become stressed due to illness, sudden dietary changes, giving birth, nursing, or being separated from the herd. Stress-related hair loss usually occurs along the back and shoulders and is often accompanied by dandruff and flaky skin. 

Removing the goat from a stressful situation will allow it to recover relatively quickly. You can also facilitate the healing process by washing them with a medicated livestock shampoo. Opt for one that’s either designed to stimulate hair growth (on Amazon) or restore the skin’s natural moisture balance for the best results.

Stress can cause dry flaky goat skin (1)

#7 Hormone Imbalances cause Goats to Lose Condition

Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause goats to lose their condition and hair. As their pregnancy progress and physiology changes, some goats develop dry, flaky skin. This can also be due to stress if they’ve been separated from the herd. 

Lactation can also be a difficult period for your goats as fluctuating calcium levels expose them to other potential mineral deficiencies. These may affect hair growth and retention, as well as the condition of the goat’s skin. 

#8 Sunburnt Goats get Flaky Skin

Our Boer goats never sunburn, but some of our young Dwarf Nigerian crossbreeds have pink noses that quickly burn in the African sun. 

Other goat owners report having problems with sunburn during the molting season. As the coat becomes thinner, it offers less protection for goats who spend much of the day foraging.

 You can prevent this issue by providing sufficient shade in the enclosure and the pasture. If you clip your goats, you should apply sunscreen to prevent them from developing dry, flaky skin.

#9 Low Humidity causes Dry Skin in Goats

In some parts of the US, the winter brings arid conditions that affect your goats as much as they do you. Low humidity can dry out your goats’ skin, causing them to rub and scratch until the hair falls out and raw areas of skin appear. 

Bathing them with a medicated shampoo, like those mentioned earlier, can help alleviate the itching. Rinse them with apple cider vinegar to remove any residue that might further exacerbate the condition.

How To Prevent Dandruff in Goats

According to Dr. Anne Lichtenwalner, the University of Maine Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory director, a balanced diet and good hygiene can help prevent dandruff. 

A diet that contains the right balance of nutrients and essential minerals, like zinc and selenium, is crucial in preventing flaky skin. 

Goats also need adequate enclosures to avoid wet and hot conditions that might irritate the skin. They also need clean bedding and sufficient space inside their shelters. Overcrowding is unhygienic and causes stress.

Early detection, diagnosis, and treatment can stop the condition from worsening. Offering your goats kelp and sunflower seeds can help cure dandruff and prevent future outbreaks. 

Conclusion

Goat dandruff is a common condition that, in itself, is relatively harmless. Many goats develop dandruff while losing their winter coats, but it can also be a symptom of more worrying conditions, such as parasitic infestations and potentially life-threatening mineral deficiencies. Treatment is often inexpensive and effective, especially if you treat the condition early and aggressively.  

Nicky Hoseck

I’ve been around horses since the age of six and, 15 years ago, leapt at the chance to leave behind my London-based career in journalism and start life on a small-holding in South Africa. Sharing my experiences with horses, goats, and other farm animals allows me to flex my writing skills and help others find their way to a happy, healthy herd.

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