By Dr Jeff Cave, District veterinary officer

A GOOD spring flush may bring foot problems for sheep.

There are various causes of lameness in sheep, but a question often asked is “is it foot abscess or footrot?”.

A sheep with foot abscess will usually only be lame in just one foot.

This is an important difference from footrot where more than one foot will invariably be affected.

Although foot abscess is associated with the bacterium Fusobacterium necrophorum, it is not contagious.

In contrast, footrot, caused by the bacterium Dichelobacter nodosus, can spread quickly in warm, moist conditions.

The severity of the effects of footrot, which are inflammation between the toes and underrunning of the hoof, will depend upon whether the strain of bacteria is benign (mild) or virulent (severe).

Benign footrot has poor ability to under-run the hoof horn and mostly affects the skin between the toes and can be controlled by foot bathing.

Virulent footrot bacteria rapidly under-run and separate the hoof horn from the foot.

If regular foot bathing is required to control the disease, then it is possible that virulent footrot is present, and a different strategy needs to be taken.

Footrot of sheep and goats is a scheduled disease under disease control legislation.

This means:
• When outbreaks of footrot occur, you must notify Agriculture Victoria within seven days – contact your local Agriculture Victoria veterinary or animal health officer, or call 136 186.
• It is illegal to sell infected sheep or goats other than for slaughter.
• It is illegal to place footrot infected sheep in or adjacent, to any saleyard or in any public place (including a road).
• Infected sheep must
be treated.
• Inspectors of livestock have the power to test and restrict movement of infected or suspect sheep and to ensure treatment is carried out.

The foot of a sheep with foot abscess will appear hot and will be swollen and painful.

The abscess can be present in either the toe or the heel of the foot.

A foot abscess contains pus and can be treated by hoof paring to provide drainage.

Antibiotics prescribed by your veterinarian will also help.

In a spring with abundant feed, sheep can become unusually heavy.

This coupled with standing on wet pasture or muddy ground for extended periods of time leaves them susceptible to developing foot abscess.

For more information on footrot control, treatment and eradication strategies please visit