Foot Infections in Sheep and Goats

By Barry Whitworth, DVM

With all the rain that has been occurring, sheep and goat producers should be observing their flocks for signs of lameness. Lame sheep or goats could indicate a problem with footrot or foot scald. Footrot and foot scald are two foot diseases that occur in sheep and goat operations.

According to the Sheep Survey of 2011 conducted by the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS), 37.3 percent of the respondents noted a problem with footrot in their sheep flocks in the previous three years. In the 2009 NAHMS Goat Study, 11.4 percent of the meat goat producers indicated problems with “sores on the hoof with a foul odor.” Foot problems cost producers money in labor, treatment cost, decreased weight gains, decreased wool production and premature culling. Early recognition and treatment is the key to a successful outcome of the problem.

Footrot and foot scald are more commonly found when certain conditions are present. Rainy weather, which keeps pastures wet or muddy, promotes footrot and the development of foot scald. When the skin is continually moist, bacteria can penetrate more easily. Obviously these conditions are more common in the spring and fall. Other conditions that promote these problems are hard surfaces and tall tough grass. Tough grass can irritate the skin between the claws, creating an entrance for bacteria.

Foot scald is caused by the bacteria Fusobacterium necrophorum. This bacteria is a common inhabitant of the digestive tract of ruminants. It does not appear to be contagious. This same bacteria usually contributes to the development of footrot. This why many experts believe that foot scald is a precursor to footrot.

Pick up the July issue of OKFR to learn more.