There are plenty of websites on poisonous plants for goats, but a site specific to the wondrous diversity of deadly, sickening, or just plain inedible plants to be found on trail here in the southeast seemed lacking. So I made one.


Image result for piedmont azalea
Native Azalea

There are two forms of azalea that can be encountered in the southeastern United States. One is a nonnative plant originating from the temperate areas of Japan that comes in many colors. This bush is only a nuisance because its used so widely for landscaping in the Southeast. It is commonly found around the farm house and some relatively modern old house sites, (1950s to present day). The second type of azalea is the rare native azaleas of the Southeastern Appalachians, which look like the Japanese ones, but with smaller blooms and generally orange coloration. Regardless of which plant is involved azaleas can be lethal to goats after only consuming a small number of leaves, (0.1% of the goat’s body weight).  Interestingly, honey made from azalea nectar may also be poisonous! There are reports of occasional goats that consume small amounts of azalea without ill effect, but avoidance is cheaper than a vet bill.

Symptoms: Head pressing, depression, vomiting, slobbering, cramping/bloating with extreme pain, muscle tremors. GOATS SPECTACULARLY VOMIT GREEN SLIME EVERYWHERE. 

What do while you listen to the soothing on hold music for the vet receptionist: Goat owners with experience suggest forcing 15 mls milk of magnesia (trade name: Mylanta) OR 1/4 cup cooking oil into the goat to coat the stomach and prevent absorption of the toxins. Add to this  1/4 cup of very strong cold black tea to put tannins in the gut to bind with the toxins and a teaspoon of baking soda to buffer the whole mess out. Keep clean water available. If you don’t have any on hand, the vet will be able to get you activated charcoal, which is sort of like a magic poison cure all that sucks up toxins and sequesters them. If the vet doesn’t suggest using charcoal, ask him for some!

Major issues with treatment:  Goats will vomit spectacularly, covering everything in green slime that needs to be cleaned up so they don’t reingest the toxins.Vomiting goats may inhale vomit leading to lethal pneumonia. Severe cases may experience high fever and cardiac issues.


Rhododendron is the purple blooming plant in the image


Coming from the same family as the azalea the symptoms of rhododendron poisoning and the treatment are the same as for azaleas. However, unlike the rare wild azalea, rhododendron is practically the glue holding much of the Appalachian Mountains together! Adult goats that I hike seem to learn quickly to leave it alone, but a very hungry goat on the trail will try to consume it in large quantities. Rhododendron may be differentiated from Mountain Laurel by its more spectacular pink, purple, or white blooms, (which are reminiscent of azalea), and wider leaves.


The whole mountain laurel plant, similar in appearance to rhododendron
Mountain Laurel blossoms

Mountain Laurel

Often confused with Rhododendron, mountain laurel is less impressive both in size and flowering, but is still basically a bush with long oval leaves.

 Symptoms: First hand accounts from other people of mountain laurel poisoning resulting from consuming most of a whole bush indicate staggers, neurological signs, and paralysis with the head turned over the back of the animal. From personal experience minor experimental nibbling of mountain laurel quickly results in excessive salivation, and eating a couple mouthfuls of leaves results in a minor stomach ache. Most goats seem to abstain from consuming it again if stopped at the stage where they’ve eaten only a few leaves and when other browse is available to them. To avoid dead goats in the future I usually allow newbies to “taste test” a leaf or two before pulling them away in a controlled environment. Given the pervasiveness of this plant on the east coast I want them to get a little sick and learn their lesson before I’m not around and they try and eat the whole bush, (*note this method is not safe for all the plants listed here).

What do while you listen to the soothing on hold music for the vet receptionist: Give the goat activated charcoal to neutralize toxins. If you don’t have any of this give the goat some type of food safe oil (like cooking oil) to coat the stomach and follow up with mineral oil to get the gut rushing those toxins out!

Major issues with treatment: If you come upon a down goat groaning or screaming with pain with its head paralyzed so that the head is held awkwardly over the back you have a goat that is basically dying. You could be dealing with many ailments, (listeriosis and plant poisoning are just two examples). However, once the goat has reached this stage it is important to ask if immediate relief (via euthanasia) is not kinder than trying to nurse the goat that is in agony for hours or days only to have it slowly die. Sometimes the right choice for the goat is not the easy or self gratifying choice the human wants to make.


Bakri in front of a cluster of dog hobble he has abstained from
Dog hobble blooming

Dog Hobble

Dog hobble has not, in my experience, turned out to be particularly toxic. The main issue with it is that it is pretty much inedible for goats, despite looking like a great source of forage. They’ll try a bite, but spit that out and go “where’s the good stuff”? Dog hobble looks wonderful – it’s green and grows in lush profusion, especially in areas were other, toxic plants, (like mountain laurel), are the only plant life about. It’s tempting, before you get to know it, to think that it’ll make a good forage, but don’t plan a trip anticipating that the goats can graze on this stuff or you’ll end up with them eating the poisonous rhododendron instead!


Leaves and not quite ready white blossoms of a native cherry
Fruit of native cherry

Wild Cherry

Wild cherry is kind of a bipolar plant when it comes to goats. Goats can safely graze on fresh leaves and bark of a wild cherry tree, up to consuming moderate quantities. Though I have noticed when they are feeding predominately on the fresh leaves of cherry trees and nothing else the herd becomes prone to frothy bloat and they are much happier if provided baking soda free choice to help deal with the rumen disturbance. However, if the leaves become wilted or damaged (say because a branch broke off the tree), they can become extremely toxic as cyanide precursors in the leaf transformed into actual lethal cyanide. Think James Bond suicide pills for spies in leaf form.

Given that forestry management and trail maintenance often results in downed limbs covered in dying foliage, be careful of this tree! This also highlights the importance of telling your kids, husband, and neighbors not to throw yard waste in with the goats – they can accidentally kill through kindness. Interestingly, for most species of wild cherry the fruit is always harmless, and the leaves, once completely dry, are safe once again for goat consumption. However, you have to let the leaves dry in dry weather for several days before they are safe again!

 Symptoms: Breathing problems, staggering, convulsions, collapse, sudden death, extreme anxiety.

What do while you listen to the soothing on hold music for the vet receptionist: Pray. The antidote for cyanide must be given within minutes of toxic symptoms. Unless you are next door to the vet the odds are help will come too late.

Major issues with treatment: The goat will turn up dead before you realize the goat was in trouble.



Goats can eat small immature poke berry plants. These are green, usually have a few ovoid leaves, and most importantly have not started forming or set purple berries yet. The adult plant, with berries, will give a goat a pretty impressive stomach ache, not the least because they KNOW that plant is safe – they have already eaten it. So they’ll munch the crud out of it and get extra special miserable until they learn berries = bad, no berries = tasty. 

 Symptoms: Stomach ache, miserable, lie around not wanting to hike. May demolish baking soda supply if available. 

What do while you listen to the soothing on hold music for the vet receptionist: Don’t call the vet on this one. Just give the goat baking soda, fill sorry for it like it wants you too, and go on with life. It should be good in about 24 hours. 

Major issues with treatment: None. Give it baking soda or leave it alone, the goat will recover. 




Personnel experience….

DOG HOBBLE: Personal experience…

WILD CHERRY: Personal experience…

POKEBERRY: Personal experience….