By Cheryl K. Smith
The most important part of owning goats is keeping them healthy, and the best way to do this is to examine them regularly and act fast when you see a problem developing. Look at each goat at least twice a day—during feeding time—searching for any change in routine or sign of illness or injury. This includes the eyes. While eye infections in goats are common, they are generally easy to treat and, if caught early, leave no lasting problems.
To determine whether you’re dealing with eye infections or other eye problems, look for squinting, wateriness or crustiness, cloudiness, hair loss, redness or swelling in or around the eye. Other more subtle indicators of an eye problem include holding its head abnormally, walking into things, or a hesitance to walk through a gate, door or other areas. If you notice a problem from a distance, examine that animal more closely. Despite frequent checking, any goat owner will invariably find that one of their goats has developed an eye problem.
Every few years I have a goat or two that develops mild eye problems. I have so far had success with early and consistent home treatment, with no lasting effects.
Goats have three eyelids that protect their eyes. The upper and lower eyelids can be closed to provide protection from harsh environmental factors. Their movement over the eye also helps keep it moistened by tears and also helps manage light entering the eye. The third eyelid is also known as the “nictitating membrane.” The purpose of the third eyelid is to further protect and lubricate the eye. It contains tear glands and closes in sync with the other eyelids. Tears also protect the eyes and even contain immunoglobulins, which undoubtedly help to prevent eye infection in goats.
COMMON EYE PROBLEMS IN GOATS
Entropion (or inverted eyelids) is a condition in which the eyelid—usually the lower eyelid—is turned inward. It is usually found in baby goats that are one to two weeks old. In some cases, both eyes are affected. Entropion causes the lashes to rub on the eye and cause watering, irritation, and damage to the eye, if not corrected.
While known to be genetic in some sheep breeds, entropion can also be caused by too much exposure to heat lamps or ultraviolet radiation. Goat breeders who encounter cases of neonatal entropion in their animals may want to consider not keeping those kids for breeding.
The first signs of entropion include watery eye(s), cloudiness of the eye(s) and, in some cases, it may even lead to blindness. Closely examining the eyes of young kids—particularly if they show signs of excessive tears—will help with getting early intervention and avoiding blindness or other eye damage.
A veterinarian can often treat entropion by injecting 1 cc to 2 ccs of procaine penicillin under the skin of the eyelid. This is slowly absorbed, causing the eyelid to swell and pull the eyelid out so the lashes no longer irritate the eye. This procedure is not recommended for the goat owner with no veterinary training.
In more difficult cases of entropion, the veterinarian will need to suture or staple the eyelid into proper position. Finally, in the most severe cases, surgery is needed.
Ectropion is a less common eye problem in goats. In this condition, the eyelid (most often lower) turns outward, rather than inward. The pocket causes by ectropion can collect bacteria and other debris, which can lead to eye damage. In more severe cases, surgery may be required to remove some of the skin around the eyelid, along with antibiotic treatment. The earlier the procedures are performed, the more likely a successful outcome.
Pinkeye (also called infectious keratoconjunctivitis) is a common problem in goats. It is an inflammation of the eye that may have a variety of causes, including irritation, which can lead to eye infection in goats. Irritants can include entropion, hay dust, bright light, or wind (often occurring during transport), among others. Once the eye is infected, flies or secretions from the eye can contaminate hay and bedding, leading to an outbreak of pinkeye among the herd. This is why it is more common after goat shows, when the animals are exposed to other unrelated goats and come into contact with common irritants.
The most common bacteria that cause eye infections in goats in the United States are mycoplasma and chlamydophila, according to Goat Medicine, although other agents can also be implicated. Some goats can be carriers of mycoplasma, with no apparent problem. Others will have a mild form of infection that lasts only about 10 days, or a more severe type that also affects other parts of the body, such as the udder or the joints.
Treatment of pinkeye includes washing the eye with sterile saline (the same as used for contact lens washing) and then application of antibiotic drops or ointment, such as Terramycin eye ointment, several times a day until after the eye is improved. Some people have reported success treating with drops of Port wine or antibiotic injectable such as oxytetracycline two to three times a day. In more severe cases, a veterinarian will be needed to prescribe steroids, when no ulcers are present, or to perform surgery.
Another condition affecting goats’ eyes is inflammation of the eyelids or blepharitis. It can have a variety of causes, including mite infestations that include the eyelids, fungus, bacteria, zinc deficiency or even pinkeye that has spread to that tissue. It may even be a combination of several of these problems, for example, a mite infestation that has led to bacterial eye infection in goats. Treatment for blepharitis will depend on the cause.
Tumors can occur on the eyelids or even behind the eye. Many eyelid tumors are not cancerous, do not grow beyond a limited size and are nothing to be concerned about. Those that continue to grow or seem to be spreading, or appear along with other tumors, should be investigated by a veterinarian. They may be removed surgically with a good outcome if the owner is willing to make that expenditure. Papillomavirus can also cause wartlike growths on the eyelids.
Tumors behind the eye or in the nasal cavity are not common but are of serious concern. They can cause the eye to protrude abnormally and are usually found upon inspection of the eye by a vet.
INJURY AND TRAUMA
Because goats are curious and adventurous, they can be prone to injuries. This includes the eye, which is more fragile than other parts of the body because it is only protected when the eye is closed. On the farm, they can find all kinds of mischief to get into, including getting caught in your homestead fencing, walking into sticks or branches, or getting poked or butted by a herd mate.
Mild scratches to the eye may show up as watery eyes, cloudiness or squinting. Treating eye infections in goats, such as pinkeye, can be done with antibiotic ointment. If this doesn’t work, a veterinarian will be needed to determine whether there is a foreign body in the eye or the damage is more severe.
In some cases of trauma, the white of the eye (sclera) will turn red where the blood vessels broke. Some suggest using an ice pack, but time will usually resolve the problem as the blood is reabsorbed. To avoid an infection, apply eye ointment several times a day.
Other eye trauma can be caused by plant seeds or stickers that can become lodged under the eyelid. The symptoms are the same as any other eye irritation and should also be treated the same—rinsing with saline solution and treatment several times a day with antibiotic ointment. If you can see what is causing the irritation, you can try to remove it with a cotton swab or your fingers. Make sure to irrigate the eye after doing so.
Blindness is not uncommon in goats, and I have friends who have successfully raised a blind goat. Often, in large meat herds, the damage is done before the owners are even aware that there is a problem because they are not able to examine each goat individually.
Blindness can be caused by vitamin A deficiency in the goat’s diet, tapeworm, polioencephalomalacia (thiamine deficiency) or other neurological disease, optic nerve damage, collapse of the eyeball, overheating of the brain from disbudding or various other conditions. In the neurological conditions such as polioencephalomalacia, if the goat is treated soon enough, the blindness may be only temporary.
Conclusion. Always check regularly and look for signs that a problem is brewing to avoid eye infections in goats and a visit from the vet.
Have you experienced eye infections in goats on your farm?
Cheryl K. Smith is a freelance writer and has been raising miniature dairy goats in the coast range of Oregon since 1998. She is the author of Goat Health Care and Raising Goats for Dummies and is a frequent contributor to Countryside and Small Stock Journal.
Originally published in 2016 and regularly vetted for accuracy.