Swollen Joints in Goats and Other Knee-Related Concerns

Joint ill in goats and other leg problems.

Swollen Joints in Goats and Other Knee-Related Concerns

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Caring for swollen joints in goats involves identifying the cause. As jumpers and climbers extraordinaire, goats are heavily reliant on their associated “equipment.” Among the most important and intricate are their joints — the knees and hocks.  

While agility experts, goats can still put some undue wear and tear on their joints just by going through daily activities and aging. It could be a rough landing, a misplaced nail, or even an internal infection; you will know when your animals are hurting. Fortunately, joints issues are fairly easy to spot, making it worthwhile to pay special attention when doing your routine health check. 

Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis Virus (CAEV) 

When people think of swollen joints in goats, caprine arthritic encephalitis virus (CAEV or CAE) is one of the first to come to mind. As the name implies, this disease is viral and causes encephalitis or inflammation of the brain. However, it can take many other forms, including pneumonia, mastitis, chronic wasting, and arthritis. 

In approximately 35% of infected animals, the disease causes chronic viral arthritis, often evident by tell-tale swollen knees and painful movement. Unlike age-related osteoarthritis, CAE arthritic goats develop the issue well before their senior years.  

CAE in goats is typically transmitted from doe to kid via unpasteurized milk or nursing. However, adults can contract the disease by coming into contact with the bodily fluids of infected animals. The only way you can be positive of this diagnosis is via blood testing. With it being relatively low-cost, this is a good practice many goat producers opt to do on an annual basis, even when their animals aren’t showing symptoms. 

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine or cure yet available, and the only thing you can currently do is make animals as comfortable as possible. Sadly, the disease gets worse over time, and death is usually the outcome. 

Common Goat Leg Injuries 

Did you know goat knees are quite similar to humans? Doctors often use goats in human joint injury and surgical research! Subsequently, they can suffer from similar musculoskeletal injuries, trauma, plus typical wear and tear.  

Common causes of goat leg injuries are dog attacks, falls, or fence entanglements. These can result in soft tissue tears and bruises, dislocation, and fractures. Being surrounded by soft tissue, hocks and knees tend to swell up very quickly when they experience trauma. You will likely find animals extremely reluctant, if not unable, to bear weight on those limbs. 


Many of these intricate injuries will require proper veterinary diagnosis to determine severity and treatment. You may resolve certain soft-tissue injuries simply with cold compresses and anti-inflammatory treatment. Others, especially infections, could require more vigorous ongoing treatment.

Any injuries that break the skin on and around knees and hocks should be tended to and observed very carefully. Signs to look for include swollen joints in goats, stiff movement, and the joint area becomes hard, hot, and extremely swollen. 

Other Issues 

The tissue surrounding joints is extremely sensitive and dependent on several other body systems. Certain intramuscular injections can cause problems that lead to swelling and lameness. This is usually caused by strong drugs irritating nerves; this is common of rump injections which impact the sciatic nerve in the hind end.  

A common cause of joint issues in kids is a condition known as “joint-ill.” Animals that are said to be joint-ill suffer an internal infection, which could be caused by many different pathogens. This usually strikes very young animals when bacteria travel through the umbilical cord into the circulatory system. However, they could contract this condition from open wounds, oral and respiratory contamination. 

Infected kids may be stiff, unwilling to move, have swollen joints and other clinical signs of being systemically ill. Depending on severity and treatment, joint-ill kids may or may not recover but they could very easily carry the impact throughout the rest of their lives. Overall good hygiene and dipping navels in iodine immediately after birth greatly reduce the risk of joint-ill in goats.  

Being a rigorously used part of the anatomy, goats put a bit of wear and tear on their joints. It is not uncommon to see goats spend a lot of time on their knees going after old scraps of hay and short bits of grass. This isn’t usually an issue beyond them wearing a bare patch or scabbing in that area in healthy animals. (A plague to showmen everywhere!)  

This could be an issue in older goats if they experience arthritis or wear down their soft tissue. While you might not be able to prevent them from kneeling entirely, you can offer additional bedding and keep hay at a height to help encourage them to stay off. 

Hocks also suffer some wear and tear as they goats stand up and lay down. If you notice bare patches or rough, scaly skin around that area, this could be an indicator your bedding is inadequate. 

In dairy cattle, “hock scoring” is used to determine how much rubbing there is. While goats don’t spend nearly as much time lying down as their bovine counterparts, they can still wear down hock hair. Moderate to heavy balding with rough, calloused skin is a sign you need to increase bedding. 

Joints and knees are an essential component of musculoskeletal health. Swollen joints in goats, pain, and minor injuries should always be investigated early on. If you keep your environment safe and respond to problems swiftly, you should expect your goats’ joints to carry them far and wide! 


Bowen, J., 2014. Joint-Ill In Goats – Musculoskeletal System – Veterinary Manual. [online] Veterinary Manual. Available at: <https://www.msdvetmanual.com/musculoskeletal-system/lameness-in-goats/joint-ill-in-goats> [Accessed 4 January 2021]. 

Bowen, J., 2014. Trauma In Goats – Musculoskeletal System – Veterinary Manual. [online] Veterinary Manual. Available at: <https://www.merckvetmanual.com/musculoskeletal-system/lameness-in-goats/trauma-in-goats> [Accessed 28 December 2020]. 

Sheep & Goats. 2018. Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis Virus In Goats. [online] Available at: <https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/caprine-arthritic-encephalitis-virus-in-goats> [Accessed 28 December 2020]. 

Goats.extension.org. 2019. Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis Virus (CAE) – Goats. [online] Available at: <https://goats.extension.org/caprine-arthritis-encephalitis-virus-cae/> [Accessed 4 January 2021]. 

Goat-link.com. 2021. Goat-Link.Com – Arthritis In Goats. [online] Available at: <http://goat-link.com/content/view/149/157/#.X_xsdC2cY6W> [Accessed 26 December 2020]. 

Patil, S, Steklov, N, Song, L and D’Lima, D, 2011. Comparative Analysis Of Human And Caprine Knee Biomechanics. [online] Ors.org. Available at: <http://www.ors.org/Transactions/57/0867.pdf> [Accessed 4 January 2021]. 

Originally published in the 2021 special issue of Goat Journal — Goat Health from Head to Hoof Vol. 2 — and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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