This fact sheet was developed by students enrolled in Purdue's ANSC 442 Sheep Management course in Spring 2007, as a semester project. These fact sheets provide useful information on various topics related to sheep. View the list of fact sheets.

Sheep Hoofcare and Diseases

Hoof care is an important aspect of sheep management. Hooves should be regularly checked for disease and excess growth. Foot growth is affected by breed of sheep, soil moisture, and soil characteristics. Good management plays a key role in maintaining proper hoof health. Flocks in areas of heavy rainfall will have faster hoof growth and require more frequent trimmings. Sheep that live in rockier or dryer environments naturally wear down their hooves on the terrain, and therefore entail less maintenance.

Here are a few tools you can use when trimming:

Follow these easy steps for a successful trimming:

  1. Hold leg securely to prevent injury to lamb or person
  2. Inspect hoof and remove any mud or foreign objects
    This can be done with the tip of the shears
  3. Trim around edges taking off small amounts at a time
  4. Stop at the first sign of pink; it means you're getting close to the blood supply

Extra Tips:



Laminitis, commonly known as Founder, is the inflammation of the laminae, the sensitive, hoof-tissue secreting portion of the foot.


Laminitis can be caused by consumption of grain, toxemia, or severe infection. The most common cause of laminitis is from excessive intake of grain which can lead to rumenal acidosis. As well as overfeeding, acidosis can often occur from a quick grain rotation. Acidosis results in digestive problems and leads to an inadequate blood flow to the foot.


Animals can die from the digestive problems before they ever show signs of hoof problems. However, other signs include heat in the feet and the sheep might lie down or kneel frequently. Animals might exhibit abnormal foot growth or permanent lameness. Some cases might have sloughing of the hoof. Sheep might also have inflammation of the growth plates and joints. Hoof abscesses, cracks, and hoof overgrowth can appear in the case of chronic laminitis. Many of these symptoms can lead to lameness.


It is ideal to treat illness and toxemia before founder can occur. Treatment starts with treating any systemic disease. Contact a veterinarian. It is a good idea to treat the pain with anti-inflammatories to speed up the healing process. It is important to trim the feet frequently. It is not necessary to drain the fluid around the growth plates and joints. It will only provide temporary solution to the cosmetic problem and can increase the risk of infection. For show animals, where cosmetics are desired, joint wraps can sometimes alleviate joint enlargements.


Feed management! Prevent exposure to excess grain. Collect information on proper feeding by working with a veterinarian or nutritionist. Routine hoof care and trimming are important to help prevent complications.



Footrot is a disease affecting sheep, particularly in wet climates. It affects and causes the digital horn to become under run. This leads to intense pain for the animal and can be very severe if not treated. Should footrot not be treated, lameness can result. Footrot is a major concern for the sheep industry.

Extremely severe case of footrot
Extremely Severe Case of Footrot


Footrot in sheep is caused by two different anaerobic pathogenic bacteria:
Fusobacterium necrophorum: Fusobacterium necrophorum normally resides in the digestive tract of ruminants, and in moist climates or rainy weather, may interact with Corynebacterium pyogenes, another bacteria. The combination of these two bacteria results in an infection between the toes known as foot scald. When this occurs, Dichelobacter nodusus works with F. necrophorum to produce footrot.
Dichelobacter (Bacteroides) nodosus: Dichelobacter nodusus is a gram-negative, anaerobic bacterium that was proved to be the pathogen causing footrot in sheep. The lifespan of D. nodosus is between 10 and 14 days, when it can reside in the soil or an infected animal's hoof.

Transmission of Footrot: Bacteroides nodosus can be spread from originally infect sheep through the bedding, manure, or soil, and picked up by uninfected sheep. Because of this, clean sheep usually contract footrot by coming in contact with contaminated facilities or soil. However, moist environments and soil between 40-70 degrees F are also conducive to the spread of footrot in sheep.


This highly contagious disease in the ovine species is denoted by a loss of body condition and ultimately lameness. Footrot is responsible for decreased body weight, decreased wool production, and make it more likely for infected animals to contract more infectious diseases. At the onset of footrot, the toes redden and become moist. Once the bacteria invade the hoof's sole, the horny tissues of the hoof separate and cause a foul odor. This is indicative of a complete infection, and lameness directly follows.

Progression of Footrot:

Normal Hoof Normal Hoof

Irritation between toes and undermined hoofIrritation between Toes and Undermined Hoof

Left hoof is undermined and pared off Left Hoof is Undermined and Pared Off

Both hooves are affectedBoth Hooves are Affected

Right toe is more severe Right Toe is More Severe

Extreme case of footrot (post-paring)Extreme Case of Footrot (Post-Paring)

Hooves have been pared Hooves Have Been Pared


  1. Prevention
  2. Foot Trimming
  3. Footbaths and Footsoaks
  4. Topical Medications
  5. Eradication

Footrot Images appear courtesy of Dr. Clell Bagley, D.V.M., and Utah State University



To prevent disease and maintain a healthy flock, regular hoof care should be part of the flock maintenance. Trimming hooves frequently provides an opportunity to examine the hooves and catch any potential problems. Many hoof diseases can lead to lameness if not caught early.

For more information regarding your flock or hobby sheep-feel free to contact:


  5. class="style1"es/agpubs/sheep06.pdf
  7. Images courtesy of Dr. Clell Bagley, D.V.M,, and Microsoft Powerpoint.