Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Goat Mania

Have you fallen in love with the idea of a goat as a pet? They have many charming qualities, but here’s what you should know before getting one

By Julie Mancini

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Goats in sweaters. Yoga with goats. Goats doing agility. Goats on the internet. Goats are everywhere these days, including suburban backyards and living rooms.

What’s to love about a goat? A better question might be: What's not to love? Goats are bold, curious and mischievous. But maybe it’s their wide-eyed playfulness that has made them a pop culture -- and pet culture -- phenomenon.

While standard-size goats such as Nubians or Alpines might be a little much in a home backyard -- they can weigh 100 to 200 pounds -- miniature breeds such as the pygmy or Nigerian dwarf bring the same entertaining goat energy in a smaller package.

What can you do with a goat? Some have been known to hang out and watch TV with their people. Goats have learned to run agility courses -- they’re naturals -- and they can perform tricks such as high-five, spin and wave, and even pull small carts.

Check your fencing before bringing a goat home. Goats are chewing champions, and they will find ways to exploit any weaknesses in their enclosures. They will chew indoors, too, so don’t leave your goat inside without supervision.

Whether you're keeping goats in the country or suburbia, visit breeders to see their stock and determine which size goat fits your family. Take note of the enclosures the breeders use, and ask for recommendations on building a secure goat pen. Otherwise, you may find them making a break for freedom and stopping traffic with their cuteness.

Goats are natural browsers, so if you're keeping them in your backyard, be prepared for your landscaping to become their salad bar. Consult your county extension office about goat-safe plants, and consider landscaping with your goats in mind.

Grass isn’t all goats eat. They need 2 to 4 pounds of hay daily, depending on their size and breed. Hay is divided into two groups: grass hay and legume hay. Grass hay provides some protein and energy, but legume hays, such as alfalfa or clover, usually provide more nutrients, including protein, vitamins and important minerals such as calcium, than grass hays. Also provide plenty of fresh cold water in buckets, and change the water at least twice a day.

A busy goat is a happy goat. If you can, provide your goats with some leafy tree limbs. This keeps them occupied as well as fed. Other ways you can keep your goat busy are to provide him with a ball he can chase around the yard or create some sort of climbing opportunities for him. Just make sure whatever you build isn't too close to an outside wall, or you may be chasing your goat down the street.

Not too surprisingly, goats can develop digestive problems if they eat the wrong thing. Make sure your veterinarian knows a little something about caprine care, or is willing to learn.

The best way to keep a goat entertained is to have two goats. Goats are herd animals, and if they don't have another goat around, it will fall to you to entertain your lone goat, which can become a full-time job. You will find yourself with a bleating shadow that follows you around the yard, then stands at the back door, bleating loudly, until you pay more attention to him.

Routine care includes regular brushing and hoof trims, which give you an opportunity to give your pet some extra attention, as well as ensuring that his coat and hooves are in good shape.

Before adopting a goat, do your homework. Check with your city government to determine whether goats are legal as in-town pets. Visit local breeders and ask their opinion of goats as backyard pets.

(Guest contributor Julie Mancini has shared her life with a variety of companion animals, from a blue budgie named Charlie to her current companion, a black lionhead bunny named Bella. She has written about animal topics for 29 years.)

Q&A

The best chews

have some give

Q: Are cow hooves safe for dogs to chew on? My dogs love them and eat them down until nothing is left. Is that OK? -- via email

A: The search for the perfect canine chew toy is a never-ending quest for dog owners. Chewing is a natural behavior for dogs, one that they find both entertaining and stress-relieving. Chewing also helps to keep teeth clean. For puppies, chewing helps to relieve the discomfort of teething.

A good chew toy is safe, interesting to the dog and holds up to aggressive chewing -- at least for a while. Pet product manufacturers have come up with all kinds of chew toy options, from rope bones to tough rubber toys such as Kongs to the cow hooves that you mention.

I’m not a big fan of cow hooves (and similar items such as antlers, sterilized bones and hard plastic or nylon chews) and here’s why: These items are excessively hard, and it’s not unusual for a dog to break a tooth chewing on them. That’s painful to the dog, and it’s painful to your wallet because a broken tooth needs to be extracted. If a broken tooth goes uncared for, it can become abscessed.

Hard chews such as cow hooves can break into sharp pieces that can injure your dog’s mouth or cause internal injury as they pass through the body. Dogs can also choke on small pieces of hoof. And like any animal product, cow hooves can be contaminated with salmonella and E. coli bacteria, so it’s essential to wash your hands thoroughly after handling these items.

“Chewse” toys with some flexibility to them. They should be large enough that they don’t fit all the way into a dog’s mouth.

My rule of paw? Don’t buy any chew toy that you wouldn’t want to be whacked in the knee with. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Horse protection

rule delayed

-- Horse lovers and animal welfare advocates were dismayed when a regulation proposed by the United States Department of Agriculture to protect gaited horses such as Tennessee walkers from painful soring techniques used to make them step higher was delayed by a presidential memo to halt new rules that had not yet been published in the Federal Register.

Soring is done with chemical irritants such as mustard oil, diesel fuel or kerosene, or mechanical devices such as boots, collars, chains or rollers. The intent is to blister or irritate a horse’s forelegs and cause him to exaggerate an already high-stepping gait.

The USDA proposal would have replaced horse industry inspectors, who could have conflicts of interest, with independent veterinarians or animal health technicians trained and licensed by the USDA. Those inspectors would have no affiliation with horse industry organizations.

It would also have prohibited the use of all action devices, pads and foreign substances used to sore horses. The changes would update the Horse Protection Act, a federal law passed in 1970 that prohibited sored horses from participating in shows, exhibitions, sales or auctions or from being transported to or from any such events.

-- Cats remember what and where they’ve eaten, according to the results of a Japanese study. The finding is significant because it demonstrates that cats have what’s called episodic memory: a unique memory of a specific event. They also found that cats had the same skills as dogs when it came to responding to human gestures, facial expressions and emotions.

-- Healthy treats for dogs include berries, cut-up carrots, snap peas, green beans or apple slices. Mini rice cakes make great dog goodies, too. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.