Owning a goat is a long-term commitment since they usually live for over a decade. After so many years, it’s nearly impossible not to get attached to your caprine companion. Fortunately, despite the inevitability of declining health, there are plenty of ways to comfort these lovable creatures during their last days alive.
To make life for your goat as comfortable and pleasant as possible during its last moments, pay close attention to the quality of its environment and the details of its physical health. As you’re there with your dying goat, here are eleven ways you can comfort it:
1.) Social Support
Because they are herd animals, goats are accustomed to being around groups of their own kind. In fact, goats form such intimate lifelong relationships that they are even known to grieve for a few days after a member of the family passes away. To maintain these healthy social bonds between your goats, it is important to make sure that they are free to interact, either with fellow goats or other compatible animals, on a regular basis.
One of the best ways to comfort a dying goat (as long as it does not have a contagious disease) is to allow it to be around the people and animals it is closest to. Bring the other goats nearby from time to time, or, if there are particular members of the herd that the dying goat gets along best with, house them together. Being surrounded by trusted and loving members will provide the aged goat with a sense of comfort, love, and security during its final moments.
If you do not own any other goats, interaction with humans or other animals is also an effective way to socially reassure an ailing goat. Goats are incredibly social creatures—that’s one of the many reasons they make such lovable, entertaining pets! They love all kinds of company. As long as they are not alone, they will feel at ease.
2.) Temperature Control
Even in an insulated barn, older goats can get very cold at night. For a goat that is already on the brink of death, low winter temperatures are not just dangerous—they’re fatal. To ensure temperature regulation during an extreme winter night, try wrapping your goat in a protective coat. You can do this by either sewing a covering or by purchasing and altering a dog coat of a similar size. You might also try adding extra grass hay or searching the barn for any areas in need of repair in order to prevent excess windchill.
Though goats grow their own cashmere undercoat each winter, a dying goat may be too frail to sufficiently warm itself. Additional layers of warmth are not likely to revive the goat and prevent its oncoming death, but by providing your goat with additional, man-made warmth, you are making its remaining moments as humane and comfortable as possible.
3.) Hoof Care
Even though your goat is dying, it is still worth grooming its feet. Like fingernails, mammals’ hooves need to be trimmed regularly. Hooves are evolutionarily designed to protect animals’ feet from rough or uneven surfaces, and in turn, repeated movements of friction against rough surfaces will naturally wear down excess hoof material. Because domesticated goats are less likely to walk around on uneven or rocky terrain, owners will need to trim their goats’ hooves every couple of months in order to keep them healthy.
If a goat’s movement is limited, (as it likely will be, since your goat is, you know, literally dying) its feet will not experience sufficient levels of natural wear-and-tear. Aging goats are typically less active than they were in their youth, which is why their hooves are at risk of being overgrown. Overgrown hooves can be painfully uncomfortable; you can comfort your dying goat by ensuring that its feet are well maintained and carefully trimmed.
4.) Probiotic Supplements
Goats are ruminants, meaning they have several stomach chambers that allow them to digest food in multiple stages simultaneously. One of the key biological components that make this process possible is the bacteria that live in their stomachs and promote digestion. Sometimes, due to changes in the environment or unusual levels of stress, the goat’s bacteria levels can get disrupted and need to be replenished. Probiotics are the primary way to replenish healthy bacteria; if your goat seems to be experiencing anything out of the ordinary, it is probably safe to purchase a syringe of probiotics and administer it orally as needed.
Though a probiotic supplement will unlikely be sufficient to revive a dying goat, it can be a gentle way to ease any existing stomach pain and prevent inner cramping as the goat passes away.
5.) Dental Care
Like its hooves, a goat’s teeth need to be used regularly in order to remain hardy and healthy. As goats age, their teeth will begin to decay, fall out, or grow dull; in fact, you can often tell the age of a goat simply by looking at its teeth. Because of decaying and dull teeth, older goats will likely have a difficult time grazing for and chewing their food. This level of physical change can be so uncomfortable and frustrating that the goat may not be able to get enough food on its own, or it may avoid eating altogether.
A dying goat will likely not have much of an appetite, but it is still important for them to keep eating enough to avoid painful levels of hunger. To help your senior goat eat, try feeding it soft foods, like soaked alfalfa pellets, soaked beet pulp, rabbit pellets (they contain the same hay that goats eat), or a small amount of senior horse feed (1 to 2 cups, depending on if it’s a mini or full-sized goat). Senior feed is soft enough for older goats to gum; in fact, it’s so soft that it can crumble between your fingers. These soft foods are an invaluable resource, and keeping your goat well-fed is a sure way to help it be comfortable up until the very end.
6.) Parasite Prevention
Dying goats are particularly susceptible to parasitic worms, which will cause anemia, weight loss, or even death. To watch for parasites, check your goat’s eyelids for signs of anemia and pay close attention to irregular amounts of weight loss. Does are particularly susceptible to parasites after kidding. Keep a close eye on each of these factors to catch parasitic threats in the early stages; undetected parasites can kill your goat.
If your goat is languishing because it does have parasites, you may need to try administering a dewormer. Deworming medication is designed to kill parasitic worms either by paralyzing or starving them. Since this substance is an antibiotic pharmaceutical, take the time to learn about the proper dosage and be sure to use it with caution. If administered incorrectly, a dewormer can cause your goat serious harm. A good way to prevent your goats from developing fatal parasites is to decide on a regular schedule for administering a deworming medication, such as every spring and fall since this will prevent parasites from living for harmful amounts of time.
It can be hard to tell whether or not a parasite is killing your goat, and whether or not a dewormer would be effective, but even if the medication does not prevent the oncoming death, it can lower the levels of discomfort by eliminating the parasite from the equation.
7.) Arthritic Adjustments
Ah, the classic bane of aging. As it is for most mammals, the aging process for goats is frequently accompanied by joint pain. Although it is sad to watch your goat experience this kind of discomfort, you may rest assured that it is a fairly regular condition. Since goats with arthritis may have trouble reaching food in steep places or eating out of a regular hay feeder, you can make the process more comfortable for them by elevating their bowl slightly, or giving them a separate bowl that they can access while laying down.
There are also forms of medication that can reduce arthritic pain, but consult with a veterinarian for instructions on proper dosage and supplement use.
If your goat is young and is already experiencing arthritis, it likely has an infectious disease called caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE). Often, professionals will recommend euthanasia as the most appropriate course of action, because the disease is highly contagious and is an incredibly slow, painful way for your goat to die. This is a difficult decision to make, but it is more humane than forcing the goat to endure a painful life, let alone risking the health of the rest of your herd.
You can comfort your dying goat by making accommodations to their arthritic physical capabilities, and even by gently massaging painful areas.
8.) Sweet Foods
Though drastic levels of weight loss may be indicative of a parasite or a disease, it is not uncommon for older goats to show moderate signs of weight loss. Tooth decay, social changes in the herd, or other underlying health conditions can cause your goat to stop eating regularly and, naturally, lose weight.
Fortunately, as most goat owners know, goats are suckers for sweet food, which makes it a great training tool and source of bribery; they can hardly resist it! If your goat has stopped eating regularly, try to comfort it with sweeter food mixes like Purina Goat Chow or DuMOR Sweet Goat. Both mixes contain more molasses than other brands and aren’t necessarily as healthy, but your goat is dying: it deserves to enjoy the sweet things in life.
In some cases, it may be helpful to separate the dying goat from the others during feeding time. Social environments that cause stress may make it difficult for your goat to eat enough to receive all the nutrients it needs. You may also try using a baster to feed your goat a “goat drench,” a sweet concoction of corn oil, molasses, and Gatorade. Your goat will not have to chew and can simply enjoy a unique, sweet treat during its final moments alive.
9.) Fresh Water
A goat that is struggling to eat enough food may also have a difficult time drinking enough water. Obviously, hydration is a critical factor of overall physical health; a goat that is dehydrated will experience a range of other physical issues, and dehydration can exacerbate the agony of dying.
Help your goat stay hydrated by providing it with its own bowl of water. Keep the water somewhere that your goat will regularly see it and will easily be able to access it. You may even need to offer the water to your goat from time to time; your presence and gentle interactions will put the goat at ease and encourage it to drink. Above all else, to avoid causing further illness, make sure the water is fresh and clean.
10.) Clean Shelter
Remember the multiple-stomachs thing? Well, (believe it or not), all of that digested material has to go somewhere. Goats relieve themselves a lot, and, unlike animals like dogs and sheep, goats don’t care where they do it. This means that, without regular maintenance, their shelters and grazing areas can quickly become filthy, with hazardous levels of ammonia irritating their sensitive lungs and causing illness. For the sake of your nose, your dying goat, and all of your caprine companions, be sure to replace insulation and bedding any time that it looks damp or dirty.
11.) Physical Contact
Domesticated animals love a good massage, and goats are no exception. Goats love human interaction: scratches behind their ears, back rubs, and all forms of gentle petting. If you are able to be with your goat during its final hours, watching it struggle may be a poignant, difficult experience. One of the best ways to show your goat that it is loved is to physically comfort it. Let it feel your familiar touch and hear the sound of your voice. Let yourself enjoy these last, special moments together. Above all, remember that you did your best to provide your goat with a good life because that’s what matters most.