Just like people, goats can get dry, itchy skin in winter. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

Winters can be an itchy season for goats in Maine.

Just like in people, low humidity can create dry skin conditions or worsen existing skin diseases. So it’s important to pay attention to what your goats may be trying to tell you if they are scratching or rubbing more than usual.

According to animal health experts, in addition to the dry air, the most likely causes of goat skin irritation are skin pathogens, nutritional deficiencies, parasites and diet.

“While goats, like us, can get severe conditions like autoimmune diseases, usually skin problems are due to much less serious conditions,” said Dr. Anne Lichtenwalner, director of the University of Maine Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. “As usual, the key is prevention or early detection and diagnosis and prompt treatment.”

Treating the conditions quickly not only helps the goats feel better, it also prevents transmission of certain fungal, parasitic or bacterial pathogens between goats and humans.

The most common and well known, Lichtenwalners said, is ringworm. Despite the name ringworm is a fungus, not a worm. It itches and causes hair loss and skin crusting. It can be treated by clipping hair around the infected area and scrubbing off any scales using Betadine. Then apply a topical antifungal regularly for up to six weeks. It’s also important to disinfect all equipment daily that comes in contact with the goat to prevent the fungus from spreading.

Sarcoptic mites can also spread from goats to other animals and humans. The sores created by bacterial infections caused by the mites can look like ringworm. Since the treatments for the two are different — getting rid of the mites calls for species-specific sprays or dips — Lichtenwalner recommends contacting a veterinarian for a treatment plan.

“There are a number of nutritional and management factors that can help prevent skin diseases in goats,” Lichtenwalner said. “A balanced diet, especially in regard to minerals like selenium and zinc, is vital to good skin health.”

Goats should always have clean bedding and housing with no abrasive or sharp surfaces, especially on feeders and waterers. Good hygiene is important for grooming equipment, such as brushes, hoof picks, trimming and shearing tools, she said.

If your goats have dry skin due to low humidity, bathing them in special livestock shampoos available at farm supply outlets can help. If you do bathe your goats, just make sure to rinse them thoroughly and even consider using a vinegar rinse to make sure no soap residue remains on the animal.

A goat with any type of skin irritation or lesion should be separated from other animals, Lichtenwalner said.

“Check with your vet or a farm mentor on what to do next,” she said. “Consider taking digital photos of the lesions which can help you decide whether they are improving or getting worse with whatever treatment you use.”

Finally, be sure to wash your hands after handling affected animals and keep all equipment and clothing used with this animal isolated, and thoroughly disinfect or sanitize when you are finished with it.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.