The Real Reason Goats Curl Their Lips

You may have noticed your goat companion curling up their lip to give you a mean face. This rude look is not actually a face of spite, but a face of curiosity.

Goats curl their lips up as a way to pull smells to their nose and try to understand the smell. Almost like a shark’s whiskers or a bloodhound’s ears that drag and pull smells up from the ground, they are exposing their “vomeronasal” organ under the upper lip to do this.

There is actually a name for this behavior, it is the “flehmen response.” “Flehmen” in German means to “look spiteful” or more literally “to bare upper teeth.” There is a bit of variety in reasons why a goat would exhibit this response, and some could be a sign there is something underlying.

What Does This Look Like?

A goat performing the flehmen response will generally push their teeth up to their nose as far as they can. They may even stretch their heads back to pull the pheromones or smells even further in. It will look very ridiculous the first time you see it but it is actually extremely common for animals of all different kinds to make this face. Some animals that also have a flehmen response are horses, giraffes, donkeys, cats, cows, sheep, and even rhinos.

The most common you’ve probably seen is from a lion or tiger. When investigating something new, they will bare their teeth. This is often something we see as an aggressive gesture. However, is often just the giant cat’s way of exposing their own “vomeronasal” organ to get a better sniff of what’s around them.

What Types of Goats Flehmen?

Goats of all ages flehmen. They could be a brand new kid (baby goat) curious about the smell of their own mother’s afterbirth, or a 20-year-old goat finding a new medicine to have a particularly sharp scent. Both male and female goats do it as well. When there is something new and peculiar in the barnyard, the goats will be flehmening!

What Do They Smell?

Goats will be curious about all kinds of different new smells. Things like pheromones, urine, females in heat, unknown animals, any new taste or smell like that of medicine, a treat, etc.

It is important to be able to take up many smells from the world as a goat. In order to survive, they must be able to communicate messages to other goats through the olfactory passageway (the nose). One way that animals communicate messages with each other is through pheromones. Just like humans do, only a little less subtle. When a male peacock fluffs its wings, it is looking for a mate. When a goat shares pheromones from its body, it is communicating a similar message.


Pheromones can be thought of as subconscious smells or air traveling hormones. They are chemicals that an organism produces, that change the behavior of another organism. For example, a female goat might secrete hormones through her menstrual blood or even her fur, which would cause a male goat nearby to want to breed with her. This is one of the reasons certain animals have very distinct smells.

They may smell stinky to us, but to other members of their species, they are extra attractive to each other! This is very typical of a female goat, to secrete pheromones through her menstrual blood when she is in heat. A male goat will be more likely to exude his pheromones through his urine. Either to female goats for breeding or to other male goats to mark his territory.

Goats are unique in their flehmen responses because they are only a few of the animals that have a passageway for air while they do so. Horses, for example, don’t breathe through their mouths so they must only breathe through their nose and expose their upper lip organ when they want to smell something curious.

Affection and the Flehmen Response

Some goats seek affection with the flehmen response. They also may display it when they get really happy about seeing their owner, a special treat, or a new toy! Goats curl their lips as a response to a curious or unknown smell they wish to know more of. The curling and exposing of the inner lips bring the sensation closer. So it only makes sense that they would do this when they want something they love to be closer to them!

Another tip I learned from working with horses that translates to goats as well, is that just below the nose on the upper lip can be a tickle spot for them. You can sometimes make a goat curl their lip up by softly tickling the outside of it! Just be careful not to get bit!

Signs of Pain

Although the flehmen response can be a loving one. It can also communicate pain. Particularly, it can be a response to low-level abdominal pain. Animals can’t speak their minds to us when they are having pain. Sometimes they don’t make noise at all. This is why it is important to understand and look for signs of your animals having needs that are invisible to the human eye. If your goat starts using the flehmen response much more often and for no apparent reason, it may be time to look to the goat doctors for some help.

This is only on a rare occasion, however. Generally, a goat will just be showing a flehmen response when exposed to a new smell, a new animal, or an exciting experience like a treat they love! Or of course by tickling their lip to make them smile!

Overall, goats exhibiting a flehmen response is nothing to get offended by or worried about. They are curious creatures just like the rest of us. If it seems excessive, and if your animal is behaving strangely in other ways as well, it wouldn’t hurt to go see a vet. But otherwise, just keep enjoying the quirky personality traits of your favorite goofy barnyard goats!

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