Foot rot in sheep and goats

Foot rot is a highly contagious disease among sheep and goats.

Foot rot disease causes labor and income loss for many small ruminant producers. Foot rot-infected sheep and goats frequently experience debilitating pain, discomfort and lameness, which can affect their ability to graze or move to the feed bunk. These animals can die from starvation or become more susceptible to other diseases.

Foot rot is caused by a synergistic infection of two organisms, Dichelobacter nodosus and Fusobacterium necrophorum. Fusobacterium necrophorum is in virtually all sheep and goat environments and sets the stage for infection with the organism necessary for foot rot to occur, Dichelobacter nodosus. Dichelobacter nodosus produces a powerful enzyme that dissolves hoof horn and leads to the undermining of the sole, the severe lameness, the foul smell and the abnormal hoof growth seen with classic virulent foot rot. About 20 different strains of D. nodosus are believed to occur in the US. The most common lesion seen is a moist, raw infection of the skin between the toes that becomes painful. Typically animals are seen grazing on their knees. The foot will become red and the skin between the toes will be slimy and foul smelling. If not treated early, the bacterial toxins break down the hoof wall and sole of the foot, resulting in the hoof wall loosening and detaching from the foot. Precursors to the disease include overgrown, cracked or damaged hooves. Diets deficient in certain minerals also predispose animals to poor hoof health and secondary infections.

Systemic treatment with antibiotics with or without trimming of the hoof is most effective. Trimming of the claws is recommended to remove excess tissue that provides a place for the bacteria to thrive. After feet have been trimmed, affected animals should stand for at least 5 minutes with all feet in a medicated foot bath (10 percent copper or zinc sulfate) and dry before being turned out. This process should be repeated weekly for 4 weeks. Michigan State University Extension recommends that animals that do not respond to treatment should be culled.

Prevention is the key controlling foot rot in sheep and goats. Do not buy lame animals and thoroughly inspect the feet of all animals before purchase. All new purchases and all animals that have left the farm and returned should be quarantined for 30 days. Provide good drainage in pastures and paddocks and keep the barn clean and dry. Also, practice regular hoof trimming and good hoof care and management.

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