How to Recognize and Treat Pink Eye in Goats

Bacterial conjunctivitis in goats and how to treat it.

Pink eye in goats - what it is and how to treat it without antibiotics.

How to recognize pink-eye in goats

One hot summer morning when I went outside to feed the goats, Wish, the herd queen, didn't come to the gate to greet me with the rest of the herd. 

She stood in the deep shade of the goat shed and bawled at me. That's not normal goat behavior.

As I walked toward her she acted as though she were blind, not focusing on anything in particular and not watching me approach her. 

How could she have gone blind overnight, I wondered?

Her eyes were clouded over and she refused to leave the shed, as though the light hurt her eyes. I realized it must be pink eye and that she had the bacterial infection in both eyes.

What is pink eye?

Pink eye (bacterial conjunctivitis) is an infection or inflammation of the outer membrane of the eyeball and the inner eyelid. 

It's highly contagious and can be spread throughout a herd by flies, so it's often a summer problem when flies are at their worst.

If left untreated, pink eye will run its course and go away on its own eventually; it's a "self-limiting condition." 

But Wish's eyes definitely bothered her and I certainly didn't want it to spread through my herd.

By the way, I've had pink eye myself - twice in the past few years - and it is irritating, itchy and definitely uncomfortable. I would hate for someone to decide that my own case should "run its course." I desperately wanted some relief.

How to treat pink eye in goats

Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian. You are responsible for your animals' health. This is what I chose to use on my own livestock. Please do your own research before using any products, plants, herbs, and/or essential oils.

Pink eye can be treated with antibiotics, but I avoid using them unless it's absolutely necessary because antibiotics kill both the bad and good bacteria in our bodies (including goat bodies).

Humans and livestock can also become resistant to antibiotics if we take them often. 

Antibiotics can be lifesaving, and I will give them if it's a serious infection and if my veterinarian says it's needed, but in this case, I preferred to treat Wish's case of pink eye without them.

Although we aren't raising our goats to be food animals, we do drink goat milk

Since antibiotic residue can be present in an animal's milk, it's standard practice to discard milk from a dairy animal receiving antibiotics for quite some time after use.

For all of these reasons, I don't administer antibiotics unless it's necessary. I try to raise goats as naturally as possible.

Treatment plan

After researching ways to treat pink eye in humans, I formed a treatment plan for Wish.

I treated Wish twice a day, first using a warm washcloth to soothe her eyes and to loosen the dried mucus and debris in the lashes, then gently washed her eyelids with baby shampoo (the no-tears brand). 

I was careful to wash from the inner corner to the outside corner of her eye, to avoid getting bacteria and dirt in the tear ducts.

Then I washed the shampoo from her eyes with a second warm washcloth.

My barn doesn't have plumbing, so the best way to have a "clean, warm washcloth" is to fill a jar with hot water in the house, add the two washcloths, and put a lid on the jar.

When I get out to the barn, I remove a washcloth as needed and wring the water out of it. Used washcloths are put in a different container to carry back to the house. Avoiding contamination is important!

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Next I gave Wish a dose of fermented cod liver oil using a needle-less syringe. Part of the dose was squirted into each eye and the rest was squirted into the back of her mouth. 

People with vitamin A deficiencies might be more susceptible to getting pink eye - perhaps this is true for goats too - and cod liver oil is one of the treatments for this deficiency. [Source]

Finally I used a cotton ball to cleanse the goat's face gently with mouthwash, the green brand. I was very careful to not get the mouthwash in her eyes, and I used a new cotton ball for each side of her face.

Wish loved this part of her treatment! 

I don't know if she liked the minty-fresh smell or if the mouthwash was cooling and fresh-feeling on her skin, but she was very willing to stand still until the liquid dried.

Perhaps using another cotton ball with baby shampoo and water would have been sufficient, but I used mouthwash.

This last step - cleansing the goat's face - is important. 

Pink eye causes the eyes to tear and drain. Flies are attracted to this drainage, and when they land on the goat's face they can then carry the bacteria from one goat to another, spreading the infection throughout the herd.

Keeping the goat comfortable

Since the sun hurt Wish's eyes and she preferred to stay inside the shed, I made sure she had water and hay inside.

After just a few days Wish's eyes cleared up and she was back outside with the herd - and thankfully it didn't spread to any of my other goats.

Are you looking for more goat information? You'll find all of my goat posts here: what you need to know about raising goats.

Bacterial conjunctivitis in goats

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Pink eye in goats - what it is and how to treat it.

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  1. Poor Wish. What a miserable problem. I'm glad she has a 'Mama' like you, who takes such good care of her! Herbally, Eyebright is great for pinkeye, in humans, as well. One oral dose (capsules from the health food store, or even the big chain stores that I hate, lol) was all it ever took, to get rid of it, for my kids - and the time or two it hit me, as well.

    Does anyone make masks for goats, like the ones to keep flies out of horses eyes, in summer?

    God bless!

  2. Interesting treatment, Kathi. A few years ago some of our goats came down with pink eye. I had never seen it before so I didn't know what it was until a neighbor who raises goats came over and saw it. At first I used an antibiotic ointment for the eyes, but after I found out that my neighbor uses generic triple antibiotic ointment, I switched and it worked great.

    My research also indicated a lack of vitamin A could be the culprit. The year before this happened we used alfalfa in our feed ration and ended up with 10 bucks out of the 12 kids born. I read that feeding goitrogenic feeds, like alfalfa, can cause a preponderance of buck kids, so we took the alfalfa out of the feed ration. Alfalfa, by the way, is high in vitamin A. That's when we ended up with pink eye. So.....we added some alfalfa back into the feed ration, not as much as before, we haven't had pink eye anymore, or too many buck kids.

    It's always a learning experience, isn't it?


  3. Carla, thank you for the tip about Eyebright, it sounds like a good choice. I don't know if anyone makes fly masks for goats like they do for horses, what an intriguing idea. Some years the flies are SO bad. I did see a pattern to make your own for horses; I'm sure it could be modified for a goat's head.

  4. Fern, that's really interesting about your goats getting pinkeye after removing the alfalfa from their feed ration - and having so many buck kids that year too. I'm going to have to go back in my records and see if this was the year that I'd switched to a "drought ration" that didn't include as much alfalfa as I usually feed. Yes, it's *always* a learning experience! Hope all is well at your place.

  5. So glad she didn't need antibiotics! I wonder how a goat would get pink eye? Thanks for sharing this valuable post on The Maple Hill Hop!

  6. I'm guessing it was spread by flies from another herd, Daisy.

  7. Oh poor goat! My son brought pink eye home from school once and shared it with me, so I know first hand how much "fun" it is. Thanks for sharing on the (mis)Adventures Monday Blog Hop! Can't wait to see what you have this week!!

  8. I'm glad she's feeling better. I never thought to treat pink eye with fermented cod liver oil, that's really interesting. That's really interesting about the vitamin A deficiency. I used to get pink eye a lot. I do get it a lot less frequently now, but I also eat more animal fat now. hmmm...

  9. Bonnie, I'm glad you don't get pink eye as often these days. I think the link between deficiencies and medical problems is fascinating.

  10. Anonymous8:01 PM

    Thank you so much Kathi for this information. I've had goats for 20 years and never had this problem, but you never know when and I appreciate your post because I too prefer all natural. I never heard of using these things on goats (or cows for that matter) and especially the mouthwash on the face! How interesting. You never cease to amaze me with your knowledge. Always enjoy your website! Gwen/Arkansas

    1. Thank you, Gwen! I'm so glad you're here.

      This is the only case of pink eye my goats have ever had, and Wish was the only victim.

  11. I had never heard about the link to Vitamin A deficiency either, that is good knowledge! We use honey and chickweed to treat our (human) pinkeye, but that's not feasible for barnyard treatments with flys around. I'm tucking your info in my goat rx book for future use. Thanks for sharing this with us at the Homestead Blog Hop!

  12. Washing with baby soap and then good old triple antibiotic ointment fixes any mammal quick


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