Foot rot and foot scald in goats and sheep

Foot rot and foot scald are contagious diseases of the hooves in goats and sheep.

According to Michigan State University Extension Educator Mike Metzger, a cool wet fall can increase foot scald and foot rot in small ruminants.  Foot scald and foot rot are costly diseases in the sheep and goat industries. Producers lose significant time and money every year attempting to control it in their flock or herd. If foot rot and/or foot scald becomes a problem on your farm it takes a lot effort and labor to control symptoms and eliminate it. However these conditions are preventable with good management.  Foot scald and foot rot affect both goats and sheep.  Foot scald is caused Fusobacterium necrophorum which is normally present in ruminant feces and is always present on grazed pastures.  Foot scald infection increases in cold, wet conditions where mud and manure have been allowed to accumulate. These conditions can cause irritation between the toes, and F. necrophorum readily infects the soft, irritated area.  Foot rot is primarily caused by the microorganisms Dichelobacter nodosus and F. necrophorum. D. nodosus which can be found in contaminated soil and can be carried by cattle, deer, and horses.  These bacteria require irritation between the toes in order to gain entry for infection. Hard frozen ground such as that in dry lots can cause irritation to the soft tissue, and create ideal conditions for foot rot when the ground warms to mud.  Foot rot is most prevalent and highly contagious in wet, moist conditions. 

Foot scald and foot rot result in lameness, reduced weight gain, decreased milk and wool production, and decreased reproductive capabilities as severely infected animals are reluctant to move in order to feed.  The first signs of foot scald are limping and (or) holding limbs off the ground. Oftentimes animals will graze or feed while on their front knees.  Foot scald is characterized by inflammation of the skin between the toes. The skin appears pink to white in color, moist, raw, and very sensitive to the touch. Affected animals need to be treated, because foot scald is often followed by foot rot.  Foot rot can be mild or severe. The erosion of tissue between the sole of the toe and the hard outer hoof characterizes foot rot. Upon trimming the hoof, the outer shell of the hoof will be separated from the inner sole. Severe cases of foot rot may be accompanied by the presence of pus and a foul smell. Animals with severe foot rot might show fever, loss of appetite, with hoof deformity.

To treat,  start by isolating the affected animals that need treatment and trim each animal’s hooves. Inspect each animals hooves for signs of rot or scald and rule out other possible causes of lameness.  Treat the feet with a solution of copper sulfate or zinc sulfate. Several products are commercially available online or at local farm stores or you can use a 7 percent iodine solution directly on the feet..  When a larger number of animals are affected, a foot bath can help to control foot scald and foot rot in sheep and goats.  This can help to minimize the number of individuals that need to be culled. Sheep and goats can be treated every 5 to 7 days by standing them in a 10 percent zinc sulfate solution for up to 15 minutes to reduce the risk of infection.  Another option for whole-herd treatment is the use of absorptive pads saturated with the zinc or copper sulfate solution. The pad should be placed in a high traffic area that goats and sheep must pass through.  Treated animals should be house in a clean dry environment for 24 hours after treatment.  Hooves heal rapidly after 1 or 2 days of twice a day treatment, but can recur easily if wet conditions persist.  Maintaining clean, well bedded pens will reduce the risk of foot scald and foot rot.


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