Despite their reputation of being able to eat anything put before them, goats cannot eat everything. Just like any other animals, goats can have bad experiences with food, including indigestion, impaction and poisoning due to things they have consumed. In addition, goats are herbivorous, meaning that they should not eat meat and dairy products. While goats are generally good at avoiding foods they should not eat, their instincts are not infallible.
Meat and Dairy Products
Goats are ruminant herbivores. Their digestive system is uniquely developed to utilize the cellulose in plants, enabling them to eat an entirely plant-based diet. Although goats are very curious creatures and may nibble at meat they find, neither meat nor dairy is part of the caprine diet and should not be fed to goats. The digestive system of an ungulate herbivore, like a goat, has a different structure and chemistry than that needed to digest meat. This also includes dog and cat foods, in particular those that contain beef. It is illegal to feed ruminants food or supplements that contain ingredients that come from other ruminants due to the risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which can affect goats.
Wood and bark are natural parts of a goat’s diet. Your goat might nibble at that paper grain sack that she’s found, but it lacks any nutritional value. No paper, in fact, should be part of her diet for that reason, and paper with printing on it may actually be covered in toxic ink. Cigarettes are another potentially hazardous item to goat health; regardless, cigarette tobacco has occasionally been recommended as a so-called natural wormer. Finally, goats cannot eat tin cans or any other household trash item. Never, ever attempt to feed your goat such things.
Goats are generally good about knowing what plants they can and cannot eat. However, if they lack sufficient sources of browse or pasture, goats will eat any plant that presents itself, putting them at risk. Some plants, such as azalea, yew and rhododendron, are poisonous to goats. Remove all of these plants from your pasture, whenever possible, and have antidotes and a phone number at which your veterinarian can be reached in an emergency.
When Veterinary Care Is Necessary
Goats can become ill and die very quickly: a matter of hours can mean the difference between life and death. For all their ability to digest things humans would consider inedible, they actually have delicate digestive systems. A goat that does not want to eat is an unhappy, uncomfortable goat. If your goat stops chewing her cud or if you do not hear the sounds of her rumen working when you listen to her abdomen, contact her veterinarian immediately. You should also seek veterinary assistance when she is drooling excessively, or when she staggers or appears weak.