Goats, although traditionally thought of as a farm animal, do make good pets because of a number of qualities. A perennial favorite in petting zoos, their curious and friendly nature make them good companions. There are a wide variety of breeds available but the dwarf or pygmy varieties are probably the most commonly kept as pets.
Keeping Goats as Pets
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.
A decent amount of space (a yard or pasture) will be necessary, depending on the breed and number of goats, so they are best suited for rural areas or on farms or homes with acreage. If you live in a city, bylaws may prevent you from keeping goats as they will likely be classified as an agricultural species. 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. Fencing at least 4-5 feet high is also a necessity for all goats since they are very agile and good jumpers as well as a shelter or barn.
You must also be prepared for the long term commitment to having goats. They do 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 Goat Health
Be sure to find a veterinarian who will treat your goats as soon as you can. 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.
Some common goat diseases to familiarize yourself with include:
- Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE) - similar to AIDS in humans, this is an incurable disease that is also highly contagious to other goats that affects their immune system.
- Caseous Lymphadentitis (CL) - this is a disease that is contagious to other goats. It forms pus pockets called abscesses around lymphnodes and when they burst they infect other goats.
- Coccidiosis - a parasite that infects the intestinal tract of goats (and other species) and causes diarrhea.
- Bladder stones - these calculi, or stones, form within the bladder and can get stuck in the urethra of a goat. Stuck stones cause a goat to be blocked and unable to urinate which can 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 is bred through Nubian goats and will cause a Nubian or Nubian cross to die young.
- Enterotoxemia - there is a vaccination for this but it is caused by a bacterial imbalance in the goat's rumen. It can be caused from sudden diet changes or anything else that may cause a digestive upset.
Getting a Pet Goat
Be sure your goats are obtained from a conscientious breeder that practices good preventative medicine. If possible, 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, you will want to think about whether you can meet the needs of one and whether a goat will meet your expectations as a pet. Goats can make great pets for the right people.
Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT