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Pets Large & Small

Goats and you thought horses were bad!

Dr. Kimberly Brokaw, DVM
Walkersville Vet Clinic

(7/2015) Horses are social animals that frequently don't like being alone. Horses are also expensive to keep and maintain. The expenses of horse ownership is one of the reasons that many people only own one horse. Horse owners frequently keep their horse at a boarding facility where the horse has lots of horse friends. People who want to keep their sole horse in their backyard are faced with a few options to provide their solo horses companionship. They can take on a boarder, they can foster a horse from a local rescue, they can purchase another horse to be a friend for the other horse, or they can look at getting another animal to be their horse's companion. Goats are frequently the companion of choice when an owner decides to purchase a companion animal.

Goats tend to be healthy and hardy. They have huge amounts of personality, and are often mischief makers. For example, when I go to a farm that has goats, I watch to make sure I have no items outside my truck that could become a source of goat entertainment. Goats will run off with a hat or sweater, and gleefully shred it before I can wrestle it away from them. They will also stand on the hood of my truck, leaving lots of goat footprints on the hood.

I have encountered goats at racing barns whose job is to keep young and anxious thoroughbreds quiet while in their stalls. These goats are often very bonded with their horses. Some of the goats even climb on the backs of the horses when the horses are napping. One of my clients has an old thoroughbred. The thoroughbred lived many years with her old childhood pony. When the pony died, the horse was agitated, anxious and unhappy. My client went to the humane society and adopted a goat to be a companion for her horse. The goat she brought home was wild but her horse immediately bonded with her. Luna, short for Lunatic Goat, had not been handled a lot by people and continued to remain difficult to handle despite several years of kind and gentle care by the owner. However, the thoroughbred adored Luna. They were barely ever more than 10 feet away from each other. While the owner admitted she wasn't that fond of Luna, since the horse liked her, she would always have nothing but the best of care.

In general goats are fairly easy to care for. Food, water, shelter, annual vaccines, deworming, and occasionally trimming the hooves compromise most of the routine care. It was the hoof trimming that would prove to be the most difficult for Luna. The first time Luna needed her hooves trimmed, I was called out and gave her tranquilizer and taught the owner how to trim the hooves. From there the owner took over providing the routine hoof care. While a challenging task, the owner was successful at getting the hooves trimmed. She would lure Luna with food, then slip on a lead line, tie her to the fence, and then trim the hooves as Luna jumped around and fought her.

While if you met this client out at a restaurant, you would think she was sophisticated and a little bit prissy; definitely not the the type who'd get dirty. However, on goat hoof trimming day, an entire new person was shown; a chain smoking, oversized plaid shirt wearing, mud on the face, goat wrestler. She even laughed that Luna brought out her "hillbilly" alter ego.

During one trimming episode, Luna broke loose from the fence and ran frantically through the field. She darted under the fence and slipped past an old metal gate, slicing open her shoulder. The owner knew it was bad. I received a frantic call. "Luna hurt herself bad. She may need to be put down but you can't put her down. My horse loves her. You have to save her but it looks bad. You might have to put her down." I told the owner I would be out there in shortly.

When I got to the farm, Luna's owner was standing in the driveway wearing a pair of muck boots with a cigarette in hand. Luna was in her field, standing up with blood running down her leg. While she wouldn't put any weight on the leg, she still tried to run from us as we tried to catch her. For a three-legged goat, she was quite fast. Once we caught her, I immediately sedated Luna. I then started to examine the shoulder. Luna had torn a triangle shaped flap of skin and opened up her entire shoulder, tearing through the top layer of muscle as well as the skin. During my exam the owner kept saying how bad it looked but that we had to save her. I reassured her that Luna would be fine. While a bad laceration, this was far from fatal. My average laceration repair requires 1, maybe 2 packs of suture. This was not one of those lacerations. This was the type of laceration that required internal suture to reattach the muscle, placing a drain, and several packs of sutures to close the skin.

The laceration repair was actually fairly easy and straight forward. However, the aftercare would potentially be a challenge. We had already elected to use dissolvable stitches, as there was no way that an unsedated Luna would stand still to have stitches removed. A tetanus shot was part of the treatment, as well as a dose of anti-inflammatory medication. The owner said she was not going to be able to give her an antibiotic so an antibiotic injection was next. The owner said she would not be able to wash the wound or do anything other than look at it from about 10 feet away. Luckily Luna's shoulder healed perfectly despite less than ideal conditions.

Companion animals are often necessary for the happiness of the solo horse. However, sometimes, they cause more trouble than the animal for whom they are purchased. Even the nicest of companion animals can become a lot of bother.

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw