Foot rot in sheep and goats can be one a costly and frustrating issue for a farmer to deal with. Foot rot is a contagious and infectious organism that is passed from animal to animal through the soil, manure, bedding, etc. However, with good management and modern antibiotics it can be eliminated. Foot rot is caused by an interaction of two anaerobic bacteria: Bacteroides nodosus and Fusobacterium necrophorum. If the first of these is the only one present, it can cause a condition called foot scald, but when the second is present, foot rot can develop. Lameness is usually the major sign of an infected animal. The area between the toes first becomes moist and reddened. Then the infection invades the sole of the hoof, undermining and causing separation of the horny tissues.

It is always easier and less expensive to prevent foot rot than to treat it after it has become established. To remain disease free, there are five management principles that will help keep foot rot from being introduced into a clean flock. Never buy animals with foot rot or from a flock infected with foot rot; avoid buying animals at sale yards or livestock markets where clean and infected sheep may have been commingled or run through the same area; avoid using facilities (trails, corrals, dipping areas) where infected animals may have been in the last two weeks; never transport animals in a vehicle that has not been properly cleaned and disinfected; and trim and treat the feet of all new arrivals, then reexamine them periodically during the 30-day isolation period.

For animals that are infected a combination of two or more of the following is usually necessary. 1) Foot trimming which reduces the number of cracks and crevices where bacteria can hide, removes infected hoof, and exposes the organism to air and various medications. All affected tissue should be trimmed away. 2) Footbaths/footsoaks containing solutions of either zinc sulfate or copper sulfate. 3) Zinc sulfate (dry) can be placed in a box in an area sheep must walk through. 4) Feeding zinc sulfate at the rate of 1/2 (0.5) gram per day for 21 days may be helpful both in treatment and prevention, especially if the diet is zinc-deficient. 5) Injection of approved antibiotics. 6) Topical medications labeled to be applied to the hoof immediately after trimming can be helpful in controlling foot rot. Infected and noninfected sheep and/or goats should be kept in separate pastures. For more information contact your Extension office.

Phil Blevins is an agricultural extension agent in Washington County, Virginia.

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