Foot Rot

Contagious foot rot is a major production problem in many areas of the United States. Though it is generally more prevalent in temperate climates, foot rot is becoming more widespread in western states. Foot rot is one of the most devastating diseases in sheep. It is much easier to prevent than it is to control or eradicate.


Foot rot is caused by an interaction between two bacteria, one that is found in the animal’s foot and one that is a normal inhabitant of soil and sheep manure. Though the course of this disease the skin between the toes becomes wet, macerated and infected by the bacteria that is found in the soil. This then allows the bacteria that are normally dormant in the animal’s foot to become established in the deeper layers of the skin where it produces an infection. This infection can cause the heel, sole, and wall of the hoof to separate from the foot, causing inflammation, lameness and odor. This disease is spread from an infected sheep to the soil and then to non-infected sheep.


Lameness is usually the first observed symptom of foot rot though not all sheep with an early infection will become lame. The animal should be checked to see that there is no foreign object in the foot that might be causing the lameness. The first visible lesion is a moist, reddened area between the toes. The infection will then spread under the sole and wall of the hoof and a characteristic foul odor can be detected.


For non-infected animals:

  1. Never purchase an infected sheep or a non-infected animal that has come from an infected flock.
  2. Avoid using trials, corrals, pens, etc. that have had infected animals in them in the past two weeks.
  3. Make sure that all commercial vehicles used to transport your animals are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.
  4. Always isolate new animals for at least two weeks, trim all feet, treat following trimming, and re-examine.

For infected animals:

  1. Vaccination— the use of vaccinations can decrease the spread of foot rot in flocks where the causative organism is the same type as that contained in the vaccine. Vaccines can also be useful as treatment. Usually two doses are given four to six weeks apart. The last dose should be given two weeks or so before an outbreak is anticipated. One side effect is that an animal may get an abscess that will have to drain before healing. This is not something that producers of market or show lambs want to see.
  2. Foot bathing— walk though foot baths of 10% zinc sulfate or 10% copper sulfate every fifth to seventh day will greatly reduce the spread of foot rot to healthy animals. They have been shown to work excellently in dairies and have been tested in sheep. These tests have shown similar results to those that were obtained on dairy farms.
  3. Foot soaks—10% zinc sulfate can be used for prolonged soaking of feet for a more effective treatment.
  4. Trimming— many different medications are effective when properly used. To maximize the effectiveness the foot should be trimmed to expose all of the infected tissue.
  5. Dry pens— maintaining maximum drainage of lots and around water tanks to prevent mud helps reduce foot rot. If the ground around the water tank freezes in the winter this can cause bruising that may lead to a higher incidence of foot rot. These areas can be smoothed with a blade, covered with straw or made out of concrete in order to prevent bruising.


Foot rot in sheep is a nasty disease that can cause many problems for producers. Simple management changes can do a lot for the prevention of the disease. If an animal or flock does contract this disease it can be treated. The best thing for producers to do to prevent foot rot in their flocks is to educate themselves on how to prevent it and if necessary how to treat it.


Farmnote, Department of Agriculture, Western Australia--

University of Kentucky—

University of Nebraska, Lincoln—


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