Common Goat Hoof Problems
Goat hoof rot, laminitis, and more.
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Goat hoof problems can cause lameness and lead to economic losses due to reduced food intake/weight gain, reduced milk production, and/or lower reproduction rates. And even if your goat is a pet with no real economic value, pain and suffering are reasons enough to treat them quickly and effectively.
Three of the most common goat hoof problems are:
- hoof rot/scald
- hoof abscesses
Infection, diet, and/or injury can cause these hoof issues.
Hoof rot in goats is a more advanced progression of hoof scald, which is inflammation between the toes. Once scald becomes hoof rot, the bacterial toxins can break down the foot’s hoof wall and sole. It can affect multiple feet and is highly contagious and very painful.
CASE STUDY: Hershey — 10-year-old Nubian wether
Hershey was born on our farm, and for many years he was my daughter’s Utility goat for 4-H. He pulled carts in the fair parade, went on hikes with us, did obstacle courses at the fair, and was a showmanship goat. He had a full and happy career! When my daughter aged out of 4-H, Hershey eventually retired to my friend’s farm as a “weed eater.” All was well until that friend moved to Kansas and took Hershey with her.
It was a very wet spring in Kansas, and Hershey came down with a bad case of hoof rot. After trying to treat and eliminate the condition for several weeks, the continued rain and mud kept it from healing. My friend eventually brought Hershey back to Colorado, where it is drier, and I took him back onto the farm. Because this infection is so contagious, it had moved to all four hooves, and poor Hershey could barely stand up.
- Aggressive trimming: It’s important to remove all the infected tissue and expose it to the air to dry out. This caused a lot of bleeding at times, and because the infection is so contagious, it was necessary to sanitize the goat hoof trimmers and stand afterward.
- Soaking: After trimming, I soaked Hershey’s feet in Epsom salt and iodine every other day. I found that the best way to do this was to put the soaking solution in a tray on a stand and have Hershey stand in the tray so all four feet could soak simultaneously (see photo).
- Drying: Once I finished soaking, I dried off the hooves thoroughly with a clean towel.
- Medication: Once dry, I applied a thrush medication. At first, I wrapped the foot to help keep the moisture and dirt out but eventually left it unwrapped to allow it to breathe and continue to dry out.
It took several months for Hershey’s hoof rot to fully clear up. To keep him and the other goats from getting infected again, here are the steps I’m taking:
- Regular hoof trimming every four to six weeks keeps pockets from developing where soil could get in. Quickly address any infection recurrence.
- Keep paddocks and stalls clean and dry.
- Keep Hershey on a healthy diet with access to free choice goat minerals.
Laminitis is the swelling of sensitive tissue under the hoof wall and causes pain, lameness, and potential permanent hoof damage. Sudden or extreme diet changes, injury, or severe bacterial infection often cause it.
CASE STUDY: Starburst — a nine-year-old Nubian doe
Starburst, who happens to be Hershey’s sister, was a good producer and had freshened six times before beginning to have trouble conceiving. When she was eight years old, she miscarried and did not settle again. Like the other does on the farm, she ate alfalfa hay with some grain as a supplement. But alfalfa isn’t always the best hay for goats.
The summer of Starburst’s ninth year, we purchased some of the best-looking alfalfa we’d ever seen. All the does thrived on it. But Starburst started grazing on her knees. Her feet didn’t seem hot or infected, and after a vet examination, they initially determined that she was overweight and had some arthritis. We still hadn’t made the connection with the super-rich alfalfa!
We tried several remedies, from aggressive hoof trimming, herbal salves, and supplements to daily meloxicam doses, all with minimal results. Starburst was still often seen on her knees in the pasture.
Finally, we made the connection that not only had we changed to a higher-than-usual quality of alfalfa, but this had occurred at the same Starburst was neither pregnant nor lactating. Hence, her nutritional needs were much lower. Once we realized that diet might be the culprit, we gradually cut back on the alfalfa, eventually replacing it entirely with just good quality grass hay. Within a few weeks, her lameness dissipated, and she dropped a few pounds, which helped reduce some of the weight she had to bear on those sore feet. She was not happy about this diet change but did seem glad to be getting around better!
Although the lameness has not returned, she does have a thickened spot on her hoof (see photo), which requires regular trimming to keep from misshaping her foot and putting undue strain on her joints.
- Pain management: Meloxicam.
- Diet Change: Gradually reducing the protein and sugars in her diet.
- Hoof Trimming: Ongoing regular trimming to keep misshapen feet from becoming problematic.
- No sudden diet changes.
- Weight control.
- Regular hoof trimming.
A hoof abscess usually occurs due to an injury. Puncture wounds or other lesions in the foot can allow bacteria to get inside the hoof and cause an infection resulting in pain and lameness. Often the abscess will work its way out of the hoof, usually just above the hairline. At other times, it may be necessary to open up the infected area to allow it to drain.
CASE STUDY: Capella — a six-year-old Nubian doe
This is a case of what “could have been!” When a foot injury occurs, treatment often focuses on preventing an abscess from developing, as with our Nubian doe, Capella, this past fall.
Capella is a healthy Nubian doe with no prior goat foot problems. Ironically, she is Starburst’s daughter. One day, we came out to the barnyard to find her stuck to the fence. Somehow, she had managed to impale the side of her hoof wall with a wire on the fence and could not get free from it. The wire was a loose piece of the steel field fence in her paddock.
We got some wire cutters and cut her free from the fence. Not knowing how far within her hoof and lower leg the wire had gone, we decided not to remove without veterinary assistance.
When the vet arrived, he took x-rays of the foot and leg to determine whether the injury impacted any joints or bones. Luckily, they were not. He removed the wire, flushed the puncture wound with an antiseptic solution, and then gave her an antibiotic injection. We gave her several more injections for the next two weeks and soaked the foot with Epsom salt and iodine. Since it was just one foot, we used an old IV bag attached with vet wrap to hold the soaking solution on her foot. Once we dried the leg and foot, we squeezed antibiotic ointment into the puncture hole and bandaged it with a soft pad and vet wrap. For those two weeks, we kept re-opening the hole after soaking, to continue to allow it to drain and to put more antibiotic ointment into it. In this case, no abscess developed — which was the goal.
- Antibiotics (both injection and local).
- Foot soak.
- Bandaging to keep dirt out.
- Re-opening the puncture to continue to allow it to drain and inject antibiotic into it.
- Repair and replace dangerous fencing!
While many goat hoof problems can be prevented, it helps to know how to deal with those that happen, so you can get your goats back on their feet in no time!
Originally published in the 2021 special issue of Goat Journal — Goat Health from Head to Hoof Vol. 2 — and regularly vetted for accuracy.