Foot Rot and Foot Scald in Sheep and Goats

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If you have had sheep or goats for any period of time, chances are you have had to deal with lameness at some point. Keeping hooves trimmed will cut down on lameness significantly, but the wet and humid climate of the Southeast can contribute to lameness-causing hoof infections such as foot rot and foot scald.

Foot rot is a contagious disease of the hooves caused primarily by a combination of the the microorganisms Dichelobacter nodosus and Fusobacterium necrophorum which can be found in contaminated soil. The bacteria invade the sole of the hoof causing inflammation and separation of the tissue from the hoof wall.

Foot scald is an inflammation of the soft tissue between the toes caused by the same F. necrophorum bacteria that cause foot rot although it does not seem to be contagious. This infection occurs when the area between the toes stays wet for a long period of time.

Both of these infections occur most often during persistent wet weather with high temperatures, meaning that this summer has been ideal conditions for foot rot and foot scald on a lot of North Carolina farms. If an animal is left untreated then there is a possibility of the animal not only becoming permanently infected but also shedding the bacteria into the soil and infecting the rest of the herd. For these reasons it is important to catch and treat these infections early.

Diagnosing foot rot or scald correctly is the first step in keeping the damage to the animal, and contamination of your soil to a minimum. A goat or sheep with foot rot or foot scald will exhibit varying degrees of lameness ranging from a mild limp to putting little or no weight on the affected foot. A visual examination, and as disgusting as it sounds, giving the foot a quick sniff, are usually sufficient in making a diagnosis. Upon visual inspection of the hoof, if foot scald is present the skin between the toes will be wet, raw, inflamed and pink or white in color. Depending on the severity there may be a presence of pus and a foul odor. In foot rot, the tissue between the sole of the toe and the hoof wall will erode and there will almost always be a foul smell. In severe cases of foot rot the animal might show a fever, loss of appetite and hoof deformities. Animals with chronic infections can show a loss in body condition, decreased production and result in an overall unhealthy animal.

Treatment of both foot rot and foot scald are basically the same. The animal’s feet should be trimmed to open any areas that may be holding moisture and bacteria. The infected feet should be squirted or sprayed with a solution of 10 percent copper sulfate or zinc sulfate. A solution of 7 percent iodine is also effective. If it is a single animal or a handful of animals that require treatment, the solutions can be individually applied, but if a substantial number of animals in your herd are affected, a foot bath is the most effective mode of treatment. Moving the herd through a chute where they are forced to stand in the foot bath one at a time can help make sure the solution is absorbed into the hoof wall. You can also use an absorptive pad saturated in the zinc sulfate or copper sulfate solution in a high traffic area such as in front of waterers or mineral blocks to treat the entire herd. If the infection is severe an injection of antibiotics such as penicillin or oxytetracycline may be necessary, but you should consult with your vet before doing so. Lameness should be notably improved within a couple of days of treatment, otherwise you should reevaluate the hoof and try to determine if there may be another cause of lameness.

Although lameness is going to occur in goats and sheep from time to time, taking steps to prevent an outbreak of foot rot or scald in your herd can save you time and money in the long run. Cull highly susceptible animals and use selective breeding for resistance to foot rot. Keep feet trimmed to cut down on places for bacterial growth in the hoof. Check any animals that you are considering purchasing for foot lesions or signs of infection and quarantine new animals on your farm for several weeks. There is also a preventative vaccine for foot rot in sheep that may be a good option for your sheep herd if you have a reoccurring foot rot issue. Unfortunately, this vaccine is currently not labeled for goats.

If you have any questions about foot rot or foot scald contact your local vet or your County Extension agent.