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How Does Foot Rot Happen?

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Goats, sheep and cattle all have cloven feet, meaning each foot contains two toes. Footrot occurs when bacteria enter the area between the toes, causing infection and potential necrosis, or death of hoof tissue. Highly contagious, the microorganisms can be introduced to livestock via other cloven-hooved animals or hitch a ride on a visitor's boots. They're also endemic in certain soils.


Also known as foot scald, necrotic pododermatitis and interdigital necrobacillosis, footrot results when the bacteria Dichelobacter nodosus or Fusobacterium necrophorum enter between a goat or sheep's toes. In cattle, the culprits also include Bacteroides melaninogenicus. While most livestock has healthy skin tissue between the toes, rainy weather or mud softens this skin, making it more susceptible to bacterial infection. Footrot varies in severity, on a 1 to 5 scale ranging from relatively mild to the hoof actually detaching. The sooner it's treated, the better the potential outcome.


No matter what the type of animal, lameness is the most obvious symptom of footrot. The animal not only exhibits signs of pain, but might stop eating and lose weight. He might hold the affected leg up or frequently lie down. Dairy goats and cows might reduce milk output. While the front feet are most often affected, footrot can invade all four hooves. The foot swells and you'll notice red, scaly patches between the toes. Seriously infected feet produce a foul odor.


Clean out the area between the toes, debriding the necrotic tissue and applying disinfectant. Your vet can prescribe antibiotics to fight infection. You should see improvement in the animal's condition within a few days. In badly affected animals suffering from an infection within the foot, your vet might amputate one of the toes to eradicate the infection. Most sheep, goats and cattle can function with a one-toed foot.


Since footrot is so contagious, avoid accidentally introducing it into your herd. Separate any new animals from the herd for at least two weeks, keeping an eye out for signs of lameness. Trim your animals' hooves regularly, at least twice a year. Since footrot occurs most often in wet areas following periods of heavy rains, move your stock to drier pastures if possible. Keep pens clean, taking out manure regularly to reduce filth and mud. Fill in holes and add gravel to the areas around water troughs and low places. If one animal in your herd is affected, prevent disease spread by using a commercial 10 percent zinc or copper sulfate solution foot bath on other livestock.