As shown in our recent article, external parasite infestation in goats is mostly an annoyance to livestock, rather than posing a serious health threat. However, massive infestations may lead to bacterial infections of the skin, as well as a lowered immune system response due to increased stress levels.
It is important for any goat farmer to fully understand how fleas live, act and reproduce in order to avoid a flea infestation in his/her herd. And also, it is important to know how to get rid of them, which anti-parasite solutions to use, in case you’ve noticed your goats scratching a lot. Prevention is always key.
What are fleas?
Fleas are wingless insects, that need a warm-blooded host to survive and reproduce. The fact that they only feed on blood is also called hematophagy. They have two longer hind legs that enable them to jump for quite considerable distances. There are over 2,500 species of fleas in the world, each of them adapted to a specific type of host.
An adult flea is about 0.12 inches long, usually brown and their body is flattened sideways enabling them to easily move through their host’s fur or feathers. Fleas have specially designed front claws that prevent them from being dislodged and mouth parts designed for piercing the skin and sucking blood.
A single female flea can lay up to 25 eggs per hour per day, which means that given the proper food and temperature conditions, a flea infestation will become massive among goats in a very short period of time. Any other warm-blooded animal living alongside the goats will also be affected, fleas getting on them very easily.
How do fleas get on goats?
Fleas do have the ability to jump up to 50 times their body length, and they use it to jump from one animal directly onto another, or from one animal onto the floor and then onto to the next animal. Since goats are known for feeding and sleeping very close together, if one goat will pick up a flea, all of them will become infested in a very short period of time.
Goats that are bred alongside other animals, especially cats and dogs, stand a higher chance of becoming infested with fleas than goats that are bred separately and given access to open browsing areas where no other domestic or wildlife animals can live. It has been found that cat fleas are the most common ones found in goat infestations.
Fleas do not typically live by themselves in the surrounding environment, they always need a host, therefore it is highly unlikely for a goat to get infested with fleas from passing through an infested area, while grazing or browsing. In the vast majority of the infestation cases, goats get fleas from another infested animal, on a close contact basis.
It is advisable to have long haired goats trimmed in the early summer, both for their overall comfort and for easier control over external parasites. Keeping a short-haired coat in the summertime helps prevent overheating of the animal, and also makes it a lot easier for the farmer to spot any existing external parasites and to start using the proper solutions on time.
What are the clinical signs?
Any goat having a medium to massive flea infestation will show clinical signs, as well as an abrupt disruption from the usual daily routine. These signs include scratching, biting certain parts of fur, rubbing their heads and bodies against any rough surface, being restless even after feeding, not having the ease and comfort of ruminating as usual.
In severe infestations, the farmer will notice patches of fur completely missing, due to extreme rubbing, scratching and biting of those areas. In extreme cases, hair loss will extend to a very large area of the body, head, and neck, the skin becomes infected and a lot more treatment and care is needed for full healing and complete recovery.
The areas of the body preferred by fleas are the face of the goat, especially around the eyes, around the ears, the neck, the back line and the pit area of the legs. Fleas typically look for the areas of the body where the skin is softer, making it easier for them to pierce thru it, in order to start feeding.
How are flea infestations affecting goats?
Most of the time, a flea infestation in goats is more of an annoyance than a real threat to a goat’s health. However, there are some cases of severe infestations which can become dangerous to the livestock’s health and, thus, production quality and level. Keeping flea infestations under control is a must.
Severe skin bacterial and fungal infections may occur. When a goat scratches or bites the skin too much, in trying to ease the itchiness given by fleas, small lesions start appearing on that area, destroying the natural protective barrier of the skin. When this happens, bacteria start multiplying in that area, thus infecting it.
Anemia can be another consequence of severe flea infestations. If the number of fleas sucking blood from a goat is extremely high, the body cannot cope with it and signs of anemia will soon appear. These include overall weakness, lack of appetite and pale looking gums. This is especially dangerous to lactating does and their calves.
Production quality and levels may drop significantly due to stress levels being very high. The itchiness associated with a severe flea infestation will lead to a disruption in the livestock’s daily feeding and ruminating routine, which will lead to weight loss. One cannot expect high production levels out of goats that are not thriving.
How do we get rid of them?
Prevention of any sort of ectoparasite infestation is key. If however, goats did get fleas, the process of permanently removing them from your animals is a three-step one: spraying anti parasite solutions in their stall, feeding areas, sleeping areas, applying antiparasitic solutions on the goats and making sure no other animal in the farm has fleas.
Cleaning their stall includes, first and foremost, removing all goats from it for a 3 to 6 hour period. Then, take out of the stall any vegetable material, from feeding areas, ground areas and sleeping areas of the stall. Thoroughly wash the stall with clean water and let it dry well. After that, spray the insecticide solution and let it dry well before allowing goats access again.
A pour-on solution should be applied on the goats, on their backs, in a straight line, starting in between their horns all the way to the base of the tail. This process should be done before their grazing time, to give them something to do while the solution dries out, and also should be repeated on a weekly, or a monthly basis, depending on the type of solution used.
A very important aspect of this whole process is making sure all of the other animals on the farm are free from fleas as well, to prevent them from becoming a reinfestation source to the goats. External anti-parasite treatments should be done repeatedly, until the farmer is sure all animals are flea-free. After that, prevention is the best way of keeping goats healthy.