Is My Goat Depressed?
Goats can make a wonderful and productive addition to almost any homestead, and like any living being for which we are responsible, it is important that you provide for them not only physically but also mentally. Goats are intelligent, friendly, and curious animals, and if they are not receiving adequate care, they can become both depressed and stressed.
How can you tell if a goat is depressed? A depressed or stressed goat may show a variety of symptoms, including but not limited to:
- Decreased appetite
- Downward-pointing tail
- Change in disposition
- Digestive issues
- Weakened immune system
If you suspect your goat may be depressed, you will want to know more about the potential signs, and what you can do to help your animal. In this article, I will share all I know about keeping your goats emotionally healthy!
Is Your Goat Depressed, Or Sick?
There are many signs that can lead you to believe that your goat is depressed. One thing that I must mention is that all of these signs can also point toward illness. Before assuming that your goat is experiencing stress or depression, it is important that you rule out the potential that your goat is not experiencing physical discomfort, including injury and infection or illness stemming from bacteria, virus, or parasite. If you’ve given your goat a check and you’re not sure whether or not he may be sick, I recommend you seek out the advice of a veterinarian or experienced goat keeper. If you are confident your goat is not ill or injured, and the rest of your herd are not experiencing the same symptoms, your problem may be depression.
Knowing how goats communicate using body language can help you have a better understanding on what your goats are feeling. To learn more, visit my article How Do Goats Communicate? Goat Body Language & Communication.
Signs Your Goat Might Be Depressed
Just as is the case with people, depression will not manifest the same way in every animal. Your goat will likely not be showing every one of these signs at the same time. If your goat is showing one or more of the below symptoms and you have ruled out illness, your animal may be experiencing depression. Here are some, but not all, signs of depression to watch for:
- Decreased appetite – if your goat has been off of feed (or water), this can be a sign of severe depression. A sad or stressed goat may not want to expend the energy necessary to eat or drink. This is a serious symptom and should be addressed right away. The first sign you may notice of your goat being off feed might be weight loss.
- Downward-pointing tail – the tail can communicate a lot about your goat’s health, both physically and mentally. A healthy goat in comfortable weather will have a tail that points straight up. If the weather is temperate and your goat’s tail is pointing downward, this may be a sign of depression.
- Change in disposition – if your typically friendly and curious goat is acting standoffish and disinterested, she may be experiencing depression or stress.
- Isolation – goats are herd animals, and if your goat is regularly isolating himself from his herd, you can assume there is a problem. This can happen for a number of reasons; one of them being depression.
- Digestive problems – science has proven a strong mind-body connection, and if your goat is suddenly experiencing diarrhea or constipation, the problem may just be a mental or emotional one. In humans, stress often manifests physically through the stomach, and goats are similar in this.
- Weakened immune system – this is another way that stress or depression often manifests physically. Depression, stress, or anxiety can make it harder for the immune system to function properly. If your goat is inexplicably experiencing mild illness more often, this can be due to an underlying emotional concern. This goes for people too.
How To Help A Depressed Goat
If you suspect your goat is depressed and you’ve ruled out illness, you are likely wondering what you can do to help lift her spirits. The solution to your goat’s depression will depend on the cause. Below are a few of the most common causes for goat depression and stress, and what you can do to mitigate the issues.
A goat may become depressed if separated from the herd.
Goats are social animals and live in herds both in the wild and in captivity. Goats are susceptible to many large predators, and their greatest defense is in the safety of their friends. Like most other livestock, a goat will quickly become lonely and depressed if separated from the safety and enrichment of his group. If this is the cause of your goat’s unhappiness, the solution is to do what you can to ensure he feels connected once again. If you have recently adopted him (and only him), or if his prior herdmates have passed away, you will want to provide him with friends. If you have removed him from his herd due to an injury or an illness, you might spend a little extra time with him until you can re-introduce him to the group or at least put him in a place he can see them.
A goat may become depressed if there is overcrowding.
Goats are physical and agile, and they need to be able to move around and explore. If you are keeping your herd in a space that is too tight, you will have goats who are depressed, stressed, and acting out. Make sure your goats have enough space in which to exercise and wander – if you cannot expand the size of the goat pen, you may need to downsize your herd.
A goat may become depressed if bored.
Goats are curious animals, and if they have no outlet for their curiousity they will become agitated and/or depressed. Goats appreciate enrichment – you can provide this by adding a climbing structure or a trampoline to the pen (just make sure it is far enough from the fences so as not to substitute as a launching pad), objects like large balls or wood stumps, or a healthy treat. Because goats are natural browsers, you can also add enrichment by adding plant matter or fallen branches from around the property so that they can explore and forage within the safety of their enclosures.
If you need ideas on how to keep your goats entertained, visit my article What Do Goats Like to Play With? Fun Goat Toy Ideas.
A goat may become depressed if left to the elements.
Goats are generally hardy animals, but they do need protection from the rain and wind. Most goat breeds originate from dry, arid climates, so standing in the rain will cause both physical and mental stress. If your goats are exposed to these elements, they will be discontent in their environment. It is important to provide a shelter for your goats, even if this is just a simple rustic run-in shed.
To learn more about how to properly protect goats in the elements, visit my article Leaving Goats Out in the Rain: What You Need to Know.
A goat may become depressed during periods of excessive noise.
Goats are intelligent animals and can be more sensitive than their reputation may have you believe. It has been shown in one instance that a farm with regular wind turbine noise caused enough stress to the neighboring goats to negatively interfere with their breeding cycles. The stress of excessive noise can have ill effects on both a goat’s physical and mental state.
A goat may become depressed in a new environment.
You don’t need to move across town to cause stress to your goats – a goat may become agitated by simply moving pastures. Goats are prey animals and as such, must feel safe in their environments to be content. If a goat has recently moved, he may become stressed or depressed during this transition. In this situation, he simply needs time to regain his confidence. While rotational grazing is an ideal form of pasture management, it may be best to refrain from moving them too far a distance if possible.
A goat may become depressed during a power struggle.
Within a goat herd is an intricate social hierarchy. When this is challenged or otherwise changed, it can create havoc within the group and lead to sudden role changes. A goat may become depressed or stressed when her role is unfamiliar to her – for example, when a dominant doe is challenged and moved down a few notches, or when a new goat is introduced and ends up at the bottom of the social group. In these situations, it is best to wait it out and allow the goats to work out their new social order themselves, unless the health or safety of one of the goats is being threatened.
You Can Bring Your Goat Back From Depression
It can be upsetting to watch your goat suffer, especially if the cause is not obvious. Because goats are not naturally given to depression, you can rest assured that if you are meeting your goat’s physical, mental, and social needs, you are very likely to pull your goat out of his funk and encourage him back into a healthy state. Goats are curious, friendly, and social animals and are a joy to keep. The more time that you spend with your goats, the more effective you will become at noticing issues and resolving them before they have a negative effect on your goat.
Providing for all of your goats needs is a way to ensure your goat doesn’t get depressed. To learn different aspects of what your goat needs, visit my article What Goats Need in Their Pens: Complete Guide.