Goats as Pets

Boy (4-7) touching goat, outdoors
David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images

Goats make good pets because of a number of qualities, although they are traditionally thought of as a farm animal. A perennial favorite in petting zoos, their curious and friendly nature make them fun companions. There are a wide variety of breeds available but the dwarf or pygmy varieties are probably the most commonly kept as pets.

There are over 300 distinct breeds of goats. They are one of the oldest domesticated species around the world and are used for their milk, meat, fur, and skins.

Breed Overview

Common Name: Goat

Scientific Name: C. aegagrus

Adult Size: The size of the goat depends on the breed. A Boer breed buck can grow as large as 300 pounds, while smaller goats are between 45 and 60 pounds. Pygmy goats are much smaller.

Life Expectancy: 15 to 18 years in captivity, with some living much longer

Difficulty of Care: Advanced. Goats are herd animals, so they need at least one partner. They like attention and can get jealous if you favor one vote over another.

Goats Behavior and Temperament

Goats are herd animals, so they should not be kept as solitary animals. A pair (or more) of goats will make a good addition to the right family.

They are best suited to rural areas, farms, or homes with acreage because a decent amount of space (a yard or pasture) will be necessary, depending on the breed and number of goats. If you live in a city, bylaws may prevent you from keeping goats as they will likely be classified as an agricultural species.

You must be prepared for a long-term commitment to having goats. They need attention like any other pet. You should also consider who can look after the goats if you must go away, or if something should happen that means you cannot keep the goats. Pet goats tend to like attention, being petted by their owner, and will even eat out of your hand. They can get jealous if one goat is favored over others.

Housing the Goat

Smaller breeds of goats, such as pygmies, need at least 135 square feet per goat. Larger standard goat breeds, such as Nubians, need twice that per goat, so plan accordingly. The square footage of the space needs to be multiplied by the number of goats you have since they need room to move around each other. Fencing at least 4 to 5 feet high is also a necessity for all goats since they are very agile and good jumpers. The living space will need areas that provide part sun and part shade as well as protection from winds. You will also need a shelter or barn that is ideally draft free. This area will provide cover, a sleeping area, and protection from predators and extreme weather. If the enclosure or barn has windows, they should be higher than the head of the tallest goat when it is on its hind feet. Otherwise, the window should be covered with a screen or bars to prevent the goats from putting their head through the window (or potentially trying to climb through). Inside the enclosure, a mother goat (doe) will need a smaller stall if she is raising kids.

Food and Water

Despite their reputation, goats are picky eaters. They prefer to eat food that has not been soiled or fallen on the floor. Use a feeder that is off the ground. They tend to browse, but the standard backyard will not have enough foliage for the goat's entire diet. Supplement their diet with hay, grains, and greens, and will eat grass, weeds, shrubs, and flowers in your garden. If you are going to keep a garden and goats, be sure to avoid roses and other toxic plants like azaleas, rhododendron, mountain laurel, and ferns.

Goats eat a huge volume of food every day. Be prepared to haul the heavy hay bales. They also require higher protein grain and supplemental minerals, especially copper. This is often provided as a loose powder or a compressed brick salt lick. Goats also need plenty of fresh water. Consult with an exotics veterinarian on the best food for your goat and don't assume that foods labeled for other barn-yard animals are good for goats.

Common Health Problems

Find a veterinarian who will be available to treat your goats. Goats are susceptible to a number of infectious and chronic diseases. Vaccinations and routine preventative treatment for worms and other parasites are necessary for all goats and you should consult your local vet for what is required in your area.

Common goat diseases include:

  • Caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE): Similar to AIDS in humans, this is an incurable disease that affects the goat's immune system. It is also highly contagious to other goats.
  • Caseous lymphadenitis (CL): This is a disease that forms pus pockets called abscesses around the lymph nodes. When they burst they infect other goats, and it is highly contagious.
  • Coccidiosis: This is a parasite that infects the intestinal tract of goats (and other species) and causes diarrhea.
  • Bladder stones: Similar to humans, calculi (stones) can form within the goat's bladder and get stuck in the urethra. This can block urination and be deadly. These stones are often a result of a dietary imbalance.
  • Sore mouth (orf): This is a disease that causes blisters in and around the mouth and nose of a goat. It is caused by a virus and can be passed on to humans.
  • G-6-S: This genetic defect in Nubian goats will cause a Nubian or Nubian cross to die young.
  • Enterotoxemia: This is a bacterial imbalance in the goat's rumen and it is preventable by vaccination. It can be caused by sudden diet changes or anything else that may cause a digestive upset.

    Is It Legal to Own a Pet Goat

    You will need to check your area's regulations to ensure that pet goats can be kept within the city limits. There may be restrictions regarding goat size or weight. Also, some municipalities regulate how close animals can be kept to dwellings or neighboring properties. If you are in close proximity to your neighbors, check that they will be tolerant of pet goats, which can be very loud.

    Purchasing Your Pet Goat

    Get your goats from a conscientious breeder that practices good preventative medicine. It is always best to visit the breeder so you can see in what sort of conditions their goats are kept and to ask to see test results for CAE and other diseases. Prior to committing to getting a pet goat, think about whether you can meet its needs and what your expectations are. Goats can make great pets for the right people.

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