Contagious foot rot is a common crippling infection of sheep and goats in some areas, caused by bacteria that live in the soil and easily carried onto a farm on the feet of infected animals or on shoe soles. Two types of bacteria are commonly associated with this condition, Dichelobacter nodosus and Fusobacterium necrophorum. Both thrive in moist soil conditions and are difficult to control or eliminate once the soil is contaminated and sheep and goats are kept on the property.
Signs: Foot rot is a more aggressive progression of foot scald, an inflammation between the toes that usually affects one foot. The common lesion seen is a moist, raw infection of the skin between the toes that becomes painful. Foot rot can occur in one or more feet, causing severe lameness. Typically animals are seen grazing on their knees. It occurs when both bacteria cause a dual infection of the tissues of the foot. The foot will become very pink to red; 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.
Treatment: Current research suggests that 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. Both conditions are treatable but may take time and can be expensive and labor intensive. Treatment of choice is correct trimming of the hoof and removing all infected sole that has separated from the underlying tissues. After feet have been trimmed, affected animals should stand for at least 5 minutes wih all feet in a medicated foot bath (10% copper or zinc sulfate) and dry before being turned out. If this process is repeated once a week for four weeks and non-responding animals culled, foot rot incidence can be tremendously reduced in a herd. Consult with a veterinarian or Extension specialist if more aggressive treatment is needed.
Control = Prevention: This is key.
- Do not purchase lame animals. Thorougly inspect feet before purchase. Observe flock of origin for lameness of other animals.
- Quarantine all herd additions for at least 30 days. Trim feet and treat feet as above.
- All show animals or animals that have left the farm and possibly been exposed to contaminated soil should be quarantined.
- Avoid buying animals from sale barns, where most animals that have failed treatment are taken.
- Provide good drainage to all areas in pastures and paddocks where water tends to pool, or fence these areas off. This is where the bacteria often collect.
- Keep barns dry and clean. Practice excellent manure management.
- Use gutters and drainage systems to prevent development of muddy areas around housing structures.
- Practice good hoof care and management. Check the feet each time you work the herd.
For further information on hoof care and foot rot prevention, see Goat Hoof Care and Foot Rot Prevention and http://umaine.edu/sheep/.
View proper hoof trimming at Goat Instructional Videos.