If you have any kind of livestock on your property, watch out for oleanders. Goats do tolerate some plants that harm other livestock, but oleanders aren't one of them. These plantings are extraordinarily toxic. According to Texas A&M, as little as 0.005 percent of an animal’s body weight of oleander dry leaves may be lethal. That means even a nibble can kill a goat.
Often found in landscaping and used as an ornamental plant, oleanders originated in the Mediterranean. Because they require little water, oleanders are particularly popular in areas with low rainfall. The most powerful toxin in the plant is oleandrin, which affects the heart. Green oleander leaves taste bitter, so most animals won't eat them. However, once those leaves dry or compost, they are far more tasty. That's the stage where a goat is most likely to eat them.
In ruminants, such as goats, symptoms of oleander poisoning start within four hours after consumption. Sometimes the first indication of poisoning is death, because the toxins cause heart failure. Other symptoms include changes in heart rate, to very fast or very slow; drooling; lethargy and weakness; or signs reminiscent of colic. Those signs include abdominal pain, pawing and teeth grinding. In a 2005 Iranian study in which goats were deliberately fed oleander, clinical signs of poisoning were evident within an hour of administration.
If you suspect your goat has consumed oleander, it's a true veterinary emergency. If possible, bring your goat to a emergency veterinary hospital that treats livestock. If your goat hasn't eaten enough to kill him -- and that's not much -- he might recover with intense supportive care. In the Iranian study of five untreated goats, one did survive. The other four died four, 13, 25 and 84 hours after oleander administration.
Other Poisonous Plants
Oleanders aren't the only plants you must worry about if your keep goats. Cyanogenetic plants contain prussic acid, which kills quickly if ingested in sufficient amounts. These include wild cherry, mountain laurel, black nightshade, rhododendron, milkweed, lily of the valley and horse nettle. Plants containing saponins can caused bloat in goats, a potentially fatal condition. These include soapwort and coffee weed. For a list of common poisonous plants in your area, contact your county agricultural extension office.
- Dairy Goat Journal: Plants Toxic to Goats
- Cornell University Department of Animal Science: Toxic Plants and the Common Caprine
- New Mexico State University: Oleander Poisoning of Horses
- AgriLife Extension: Common Oleander
- Iranian Journal of Veterinary Research: Experimental Oleander (Nerium oleander) Poisoning in Goats -- A Clinical and Pathological Study
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.