I Want My Free E-Book On Egg Laying Chickens

Pica in Goats: Why is My Goat Eating Dirt?

goat pica

It might seem a little strange or odd, but you’ve probably caught your goat nibbling on something he or she shouldn’t at one point or another.

If this happens more than a few times, then it could be a condition called pica in goats.

Does your goat really have pica? Is that normal goat behavior? Should you do something to intervene? Let’s talk about this bizarre behavior!

What is Pica in Goats?

The curious condition known as pica derives from the Eurasian magpie, a bird whose habit of consuming peculiar substances gives it an apt namesake for those similarly afflicted.

While harmless in some cases and expected under certain circumstances, problems can arise when individuals partaking in this behavior ingest dangerous or toxic material.

It is essential to be aware of any signs that could indicate someone you know may have developed pica, so they receive the proper care before more serious consequences ensue.

Pica is generally used to refer to humans and human behavior, but if you catch your goat repeatedly eating strange things, you may start to have some questions.

In people, pica is most prevalent in those with mental health conditions—ranging from intellectual disabilities, neurodiversity, schizophrenia, or autism.

Small children who are six years old or younger are more likely to experience it, as are pregnant people.

pica in goats chewing branch

Will Goats Eat Anything?

Goats have earned a reputation for “eating anything,” but this is sort of misleading.

Goats will put just about anything and everything in their mouths because they are curious creatures, but it’s rare for them to chew and swallow these items.

If you’ve ever walked out to your barn with a zippered coat on, your goats have probably sampled the zipper (maybe with a button on your pants, that loose shoestring, and a little nibble of excess fabric at the back of your knee), but they didn’t swallow any of it.

They’re just curious and use their mouths to explore tastes, textures, and new items.

If you’ve ever seen a goat “eat” a tin can, it wasn’t actually eating the metal can, but instead the fibrous paper label and maybe some of the glue attaching it to the can.

But if your goat seems to be doing more than simply sampling the world around him, you might have a case of goat pica on your hands.

What Causes Pica in Goats?

There haven’t been any official academic or government studies released on pica in goats, so we’re going off of human-based causes of pica here and doing our best to tie it into goat behavior.

pregnant goat with kid - possible cause ot teeth grinding in goats


Pregnant does could start nibbling on strange objects as a change in hormones, or it could be due to the very demanding fetus inside their belly that requires an abundance of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.

Either way, you are probably more likely to catch your pregnant goats eating strange objects.

Make sure your goat is getting plenty of forage, plus free access to minerals.

You may want to provide some grain every day, no more than a pound, to ensure she’s getting enough protein plus all of her essential vitamins and nutrients.

Iron Deficiency

Iron deficiency is probably the leading cause of pica in goats.

If your goat has pica behavior paired with lethargy, low appetite, and pale mucous membranes (look at the lower eyelid), then you’re probably looking at iron deficiency.

The best way to treat anemia (iron deficiency) in goats is to give them an iron supplement like Red Cell. You can also inject Vitamin B12 shots to help them recover faster.

If you’re curious about what caused an iron deficiency in the first place, this publication from the National Library of Medicine: National Center for Biotechnology Information covers just about every possibility.

Phosphorus Deficiency

Boasting an essential function in energy metabolism and acid-base balance, phosphorus plays a vital role in supporting goat and human bodies.

Roughly 80 percent of this important resource is found stored within the bones. Additional amounts are contained inside the blood and other tissues in the body.

The consequences of lacking phosphorus can be devastating. It causes listlessness, decreased appetites, reduced growth rates, and inhibits fertility.

Not having enough phosphorus causes sufferers to crave unusual items like wood or rocks. It also makes goats drop off on milk production with a decline of up to 60%.

A well-rounded mineral block should cure this deficiency with ease. Protein supplements like soybean or cottonseed meal can also help.

Increasing protein percentages make it easier for your goat to feel good and act normal again.

Boredom buster for goats- hay feeder

Stress or Boredom

Stressed or bored goats will do strange things, like develop pica and start eating random objects within their reach.

Keep as many stressors away from your goat as possible. Remove stressful pets, lurking predators, and unwanted visitors if possible.

Don’t change the schedule or routine unless necessary, and don’t swap out feed sources suddenly. If you recently lost or sold a goat, your goat could also be mourning.

Remember that goats should never be housed alone; they need companionship. They also need enrichment opportunities like toys, fun play structures, and ample space to climb, run, buck, and play.

Why is My Goat Eating Dirt?

So you’ve probably seen your goat eating or licking dirt. Some goats would even take in mud, sand, and dust.

As mentioned above, this pica behavior in goats could be a sign of mineral deficiency. It usually involves the lack of sodium or copper in their system.

Another cause of goats eating dirt is an underlying parasitic disease. Hence, pica in goats can be a symptom or consequence of an internal infestation.

When your goat starts eating dirt or mud, it’s best to give them the minerals they need or make their food more accessible. Otherwise, grit or stones may get stuck in their throats and cause regurgitation or choking.

Still, it’s important to pay attention to the minerals your goats need and be able to provide them. Check the next section for the most important minerals to add to your goat’s diet:

Minerals Goats Need

Domestic goats need minerals and nutrients in their diet for better overall health. This includes being able to avoid unusual eating behaviors like pica.

Keep in mind that these minerals are better given in loose grit than mineral blocks for better, smoother intake:


Mix this into your goat’s diet, and it must be 3-4 times higher compared to copper content.


This mineral is needed to absorb calcium properly. With this said, your phosphorous content should be twice the amount of calcium.


This mineral is known for building your goat’s strong bones and promoting nerve health. This is also essential for pregnant and lactating does.

The calcium content should range from 14% to 18% of the composition of the mineral mix.


This mineral helps with the goat’s physical traits and avoids them from having external parasites. When adding this to their diet, look for a mixture with 1500-2000 ppm of copper.

Fortunately, you can have copper supplements in the form of oral pastes and injections.


This mineral is important when it comes to the fertility and breeding of goats. Make sure you add about 80 ppm of selenium to your goat mineral mix.


This mineral often comes in loose grit or mineral mixes. Make sure to give your goats 50 to 1000 ppm of iron.

Iron supplements can also be given through oral paste or injections if ever this mineral is an immediate need for your goats.

pica in goats salt block


This mineral acts as an electrolyte that keeps the water balance in your goat’s body. Their salt consumption should not be less than 20% of the total mineral mix.

Is Pica Harmful to Goats?

If goats continue eating too many nutrient-empty objects, they can become underweight, malnourished, lethargic, and may risk “starving” to death.

Of course, this risk of death is sped up if your goat is ingesting toxic, dangerous, or sharp objects.

Magnets are especially devastating because they cause the stomach to twist and fold in new ways, leading to blockages and then a slow and painful death.

If you notice your goat is eating strange things, do your best to get him or her away from them. You may need to keep them inside a stall or small pen until you can figure out the underlying cause.

Be sure to give your goat plenty of clean water, good quality forage, trace minerals, and dry bedding in this “padded room” while you figure things out.

The problem may sort itself out if your goat finally has access to the nutrients, minerals, and vitamins they were lacking.

pica in goats chewing tin can or wrapper

The Solution to Pica in Goats

If pica in goats has been a concern for quite some time, it’s best to consult with your vet. He will make observations and give recommendations when it comes to their diet and supplements.

Before he examines your goats, it would be helpful if you keep track of the things your goat has been taking into its mouth. You might also list down any symptoms or behavior changes if any.

Aside from going to the vet, you can change your goat’s diet. You can start adding mineral supplements, whether in loose grit or mineral block forms.

When you do this, make sure to introduce the new diet gradually. Their water should also be easily accessible.

If you are hesitant, you can consult with an expert animal nutritionist to give you the right prescription when it comes to the right mineral supplements for your goat.

Pica in Goats: Conclusion

It may seem strange to see your goats chewing off a tin can or dirt. While some farmers think this is normal, this is actually a behavioral problem called pica in goats.

Goat pica can be a sign of an underlying parasitic issue. But in most cases, it’s caused by mineral deficiency.

If you find your goats engaged in pica behavior, you can change their diet by adding more mineral supplements.

If your goats’ behavior hasn’t improved, you can always consult with your vet and ask about the suitable practice and nutrition intake for your goats.

READ NEXT: Overeating Disease in Goats

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *