The Real Reason Goats Grind Their Teeth

If you’re a new goat owner, you’re probably still learning all the ins and outs of goat behavior and care. Goats can be crazy creatures, as experienced owners will attest, and sometimes their behavior may leave you scratching your head.

A commonly confusing mannerism is teeth grinding. You’ll know if a goat is grinding its teeth, by the way. It will be audible from several feet away. But why is it doing that?

Goats usually grind their teeth when they are experiencing discomfort or pain. If there is something truly wrong, such as an injury or illness, the teeth grinding will often be accompanied by other symptoms.

Now, before you start to panic, remember two things:

  1. Whatever pain or problem might be causing your goat to grind its teeth, it is most likely reversible.
  2. Every goat and every circumstance is different. Not every goat that grinds its teeth is in mortal danger.

Let’s start by taking a look at what to check for when you notice a goat is grinding its teeth.

Start by Checking for Injury, and Symptoms of Illness

Many different circumstances can cause a goat to experience discomfort or pain, just like you or me. It may have injured itself while you weren’t around or it may be developing an illness. If it’s a doe, she might even be pregnant!

Start by observing the goat’s behavior overall. If there is truly a bigger problem, there will likely be other symptoms to let you know. If the goat seems to be favoring one of its legs, for example, it might have sprained a foot or have something painful stuck in its hoof.

Check the goat from head to toe for other obvious problems – take its temperature, observe the color of its eye membranes (they should be bright pink), look for skin problems and absesses, etc.

Some Common Illnesses in Goats

It’s also a possibility that your goat is expressing pain caused by a developing illness. Here are a few diseases and illnesses common to goats and symptoms to look for:

Acetonemia (Ketosis) – caused by an improper balance in feed. Symptoms include depression, going “off feed” (not eating normally), general malaise, staggering, sweet-smelling urine, heavy breathing, and grinding of the teeth.

Bloat – can occur when an excess of gas gets trapped in the rumen or if a goat overeats damp hay or lush pasture. Bloat is life-threatening and should be treated as soon as possible. Symptoms include a distended, hard belly accompanied by the animal stomping its feet, bleating loudly, and walking stiff-legged.  

Caprine Arthritis Encephilitis (CAE) – a common virus present in up to 80% of American goat herds. It is highly contagious via body fluids. When it flares, CAE is most commonly identified by weight loss, poor hair condition, and swollen joints particularly in the carpal, hocks, and stifle.

Enterotoxemia – caused by toxic levels of clostridium perfringens type D. Without speedy treatment, death can occur suddenly.  The onset of symptoms generally includes watery and/or bloody diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, loss of appetite, and subnormal temperature. 

Laminitis/Founder – caused by overeating or sudden access to concentrates, high-grain and low-roughage diets, or high-protein diets. Symptoms include the goat becoming lame and reluctant to move; fever, and all four feet becoming hot to the touch.

Listeriosis –  A brain-stem nerve disorder caused by improper feeding. Symptoms include depression; decreased appetite; fever; leaning, stumbling, or moving in one direction only; head pulled to flank with rigid neck; facial paralysis on one side; blindness; slack jaw, and drooling. Listeriosis can be mistaken for rabies. 

If you notice symptoms relating to any of these diseases, or if you’re still not exactly sure what’s wrong with your goat, call a veterinarian. It will be helpful for them if you have already taken the goat’s temperature and have observed its symptoms beforehand.

Teeth Grinding May Not Always Indicate Pain

Goats can develop habits just like you and me. They are expressive and emotional creatures, which is one reason why people come to love these four-legged friends so much.

Some goats will occasionally display a tooth grinding habit simply because they are bored or irritated. Never assume that this is the case, though! Teeth grinding is still most commonly an indicator of pain, so check for concerning signs first. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

Age Plays a Part in Teeth Grinding Habits

Age is another factor that should be taken into consideration when looking for the cause of a goat’s teeth grinding. In the online forum The Goat Spot, several goat owners have expressed concern about their kids (baby goats) grinding their teeth. They noted that the kids would frequently grind their teeth, but not present any signs of discomfort or pain.

After monitoring the kids and confirming that their temperature, eating habits, elimination, and playing behavior were all normal, they were able to conclude that some baby goats just grind their teeth!

Think about human infants: as they grow, they will start to explore their different body parts. They’re still getting used to being a human! Baby goats sometimes display similar behavior. When they grind their teeth they may just be exploring those hard things in their mouths or demonstrating that they’re ready to eat “big kid” food.

Baby goats tend to grind their teeth for no apparent reason more often than adults do, but that isn’t always the case. As described above, goats can develop teeth grinding habits even if they aren’t in pain.

Preventing Teeth Grinding

The number one way to prevent teeth grinding in goats is to prevent diseases and illnesses they are most susceptible to. Here are the three most important ways to do this:

  1. Prevent nutritional deficiencies by making sure you are feeding your goats properly. Give them concentrates recommended by goat nutritionists. Don’t give them free access to grains or high-protein hays such as alfalfa; these foods can lead to bloat in goats.

2. Stay up-to-date on vaccinations. The most common vaccine administered in goat herds is the CD&T shot, which helps to prevent tetanus and enterotoxemia.

3. Observe your goats for signs of parasites. The following brief video demonstrates how to do this!

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