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12 Common Hoof Problems in Sheep

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A few weeks ago, I happened to notice that our Icelandic ram, Thor, was limping, considerably favoring his rear right leg. My husband and I were able to wrangle him into submission long enough for us to inspect the foot, and we noticed that while it was packed right full of dirt and mud, he didn’t seem to have any kind of infection.

However, this pseudo-medical inspection did lead us to the realization that it was probably time to trim his hooves. While hoof growth is affected by many factors, such as genetics and soil moisture, most sheep do eventually need to have their feet pared down.

Sheep who are grazed on pasture or on rocky, drier soils may not have to have their hooves trimmed as often as those that are raised in wetter areas or housed indoors. Luckily, we’ve been able to avoid the need to trim hooves since we picked up our sheep, but it looks like the time is coming soon, at least for Thor.

While he doesn’t yet have an infection in any of his feet, overgrown hooves can lead to a multitude of other issues. When I first started looking up reasons as to why he might be limping, I was absolutely horrified by the many diseases that can affect a sheep or goat’s hooves.

Here are some of the most common issues that can befall our favorite hooved animals, as well as tips on how to treat and prevent them.

 

1. Bluetongue

Bluetongue results in lesions on your sheep’s hooves. It can cause lameness but is not contagious. It is viral and spread instead by biting insects. A red or brand band around the top of the hoof (coronet) is a good indicator of bluetongue.

2. Foot abscess

Foot abscesses can be caused by a number of issues, but are usually related to bacterial infection in damaged foot tissue. While this disease can affect any of the hooves, it is more common in the front.

You will notice signs like swelling of the soft tissues around and above the hoof, as well as draining abscesses if the disease is advanced. It doesn’t usually affect all of the feet at a time, but it can. It needs to be treated with antibacterial medication as soon as possible, particularly if it is so advanced that it has resulted in draining pockets.

3. Footrot

Foot rot is by far the most common disease among sheep flocks, and I was terrified that this was what Thor had when we first noticed he was limping. This disease doesn’t usually kill an animal outright, but it can cause permanent lameness that requires you to cull your herd.

Treating foot rot can be time-consuming and expensive, so it’s best to work to prevent it before it becomes a problem. This disease is caused by synergistic activity between two species of anaerobic bacteria, both of which are found in soil and manure. These bacteria cannot be eliminated – they are present wherever you are raising or grazing sheep, cattle, or goats.

That being said, the bacteria have to get to your farm somehow, and the way they do this is on the hooves of other animals. This is a highly contagious disease, so if you only have one sheep with affected feet, there’s a good chance that it is not foot rot.

Footrot spreads more easily when the weather is warm, the conditions are unsanitary, and there is lots of mud. While these conditions all produce a greater likelihood for spreading the bacteria, you have to remember that the bacteria is spread from infected sheep to the ground or bedding – and it can only live for two to three weeks.

You can introduce footrot to your farm by coming into contact with other infected sheep. This can be done by purchasing an infected animal or even driving a truck with contaminated tires into your sheep’s pen.

focus photo of brown sheep under blue sky
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

It is easiest to spread when temperatures range between 40 and 70 degrees, and the ground is damp. Carriers of the bacteria will continue to reinfect your flock until it is eliminated or the animal is removed.

Foot rot can be prevented by keeping your sheep’s hooves properly trimmed. This will help remove any mud and manure that is packed into your sheep’s hooves, which is a primary vector for carrying this bacteria. You can also soak the foot n a bath of a zinc sulfate solution.

Interestingly, though, you need to be careful not to over trim your sheep’s hooves. This can actually cause a more aggressive spread of the disease. Vaccination can also help prevent and treat footrot, but it doesn’t cover all the strains, so it’s not foolproof.

In most cases, sheep will respond to treatment right away. However, those that don’t must be culled before they spread footrot to the other sheep. It should also be noted that some sheep are more susceptible to footrot based on their breed and genetics. For whatever reason, sheep with black hooves are less prone to footrot than are those with lighter hooves.


4. False footrot

Here’s something to pay attention to.

Footrot will very rarely affect only one sheep in an entire flock. Don’t assume that a single footsore sheep has footrot. If only one or two sheep seem to be infected, there’s a chance that false footrot – and not actual footrot – is to blame.

This term is loosely applied to any condition in which the lining membrane of the canal at the top of the hoof becomes infected or diseased. There will be a formation of pus and the hoof-head will become severely painful and warm to the touch.

To treat this disease, you will need to clean the foot and cut away any rotten or loose under-run horn. In rare cases, you may need to bring your sheep to a veterinarian to have the toe amputated.

5. Foot and mouth disease

This highly contagious disease can spread among cattle, pigs, sheep, deer, and goats, and is a serious problem in many parts of the world. In a sheep, it will present less obvious signs than in a cow or pig,  in which you will notice large blisters in or around the mouth, feet, or teats.

Luckily, there haven’t been any outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in the United States for quite some time. However, this disease has reared its head in the United Kingdom in the recent past, so it wouldn’t be unheard of for it to resurface elsewhere, too.

6. Foot Scald 

five white sheep on farm
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Also known as interdigital dermatitis, foot scald is an infection that is not contagious. It causes lameness and usually occurs on the front feet. Upon closer inspection, you might notice lesions between your sheep’s hooves. The tissue will become either white or red and swollen. It is easy to treat, requiring you only to get your sheep out of muddy pastures and keep them in a drier environment.

You can also treat foot scald by applying a topical solution of copper sulfate. This condition often resolves on its own as drier conditions arise.


7. Laminitis

Laminitis is caused by poor blood flow to the hoof. This is a relatively rare disease because animals usually die before their feet become infected. It is caused by excessive grain intake, also known as acidosis, which ultimately causes digestive problems and later moves to other parts of the body. It can result in permanent lameness.

8. Soremouth

Also referred to as contagious ecthyma, this disease causes lameness as well as blisters on the skin near the top of the hoof wall. You might also notice blisters on other parts of your sheep’s body, such as his mouth. In fact, you are more likely to see blisters around the mouth than you are on a sheep’s legs or feet. You can prevent this disease with vaccianation and it is easily treated with an antiboitic ointment.

9. Gland infection

white coated lamb
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Sheep have scent glands between their toes, and these can become infected. This tends to be more common with younger sheep, but can infect individuals of all ages. It usually results in a pus-filled sac between the top and front of the foot where the sheep’s toes meet. Treating with an antibiotic and cleaning the gland is the best way to treat this problem.

10. Cuts and wounds

Now, an important consideration to keep in mind is that a limping sheep is not necessarily a sick one. There is also a chance that he or she has somehow injured himself. It is very easy for a sheep to injure himself between the grooves of his toes, as well as between the hoof wall and the pad of the hoof. You might not even be able to see any sign of injury and yet this can still be the source of the pain.

With that in mind, make sure you rule out all other potential illnesses before deciding it is a simple wound. Then, you can treat it with warm water and antibiotic ointments. It’s also a good idea to spray some Blu Kote on the foot to allow it to be protected while it heals.

11. Shelly hoof

agriculture animal blur close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Shelly hoof affects the wall of the hoof , which is a naturally weak area, in general.  You might notice that the line of the hoof progressively begins to degenerate. You’ll notice that pockets become packed full of dirt and debris, and the hoof wall will separate. Mild cases are extremely common, but more severe cases can lead to lameness or abscesses.

The easiest way to prevent shelly hoof is to routinely inspect the hooves of your sheep. This will allow you to notice when hooves have become overgrown and need to be pared. If an abscess does arise, don’t worry – it’s usually not infectious and is easily treated by trimming and foot baths.

12. Granuloma

A granuloma will look not unlike a strawberry and will cause serious damage to the foot. It is caused by overzealous foot trimming, which then leads to bleeding, but other injuries can also cause this to appear. It results in a misshapen and overgrown hoof and your sheep will favor the foot. This disease can also be caused by prolonged exposure to wet ground and is more common in sheep who have a history of footrot.

If your sheep has a granuloma, contact your veterinarian. The vet will need to anesthetize the foot before trimming and exposing the granuloma. It will need to be removed and the base cauterized.

 

Consider these tips to help your sheep grow as healthy and happy as possible. Make sure you follow us on Instagram (@jrpiercefamilyfarm) and Pinterest (J&R Pierce Family Farm) for regular updates and photos! We’d also love it if you’d subscribe to our email newsletter, where we will offer regular updates, discounts, and information on all the latest homesteading information.

Thanks for reading!

 

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Author: Rebekah Pierce

I'm a writer and small farm owner, and lover of everything outdoors. I'm hoping to share my passion for farming, gardening, and homesteading with you on my blogging journey.

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