Footrot: more detail

Scald and severe footrot are caused by the same bacteria: Dichelobacter nodosus, which live on the feet of sheep.

Scald and severe footrot are two stages of the same disease (footrot) and therefore should be managed together. D. nodosus spreads between sheep via the surface the sheep are standing or walking on (e.g. the pasture or standing areas at gathering sites). Treating sheep quickly and separating lame sheep reduces the chance of bacteria passing to other sheep in the group. By treating ewes with footrot quickly, you’ll lower your levels of scald in lambs or prevent it altogether.

D. nodosus is especially good at attacking the junction between the hoof horn and the foot tissue. This causes the characteristic footrot lesions.

Antibiotics are the best way to treat footrot

We know that antibiotic injection and antibiotic spray is the best treatment for footrot thanks to an experiment we did where we treated lame sheep with four different treatment combinations:

  • Antibiotic injection + antibiotic spray
  • Antibiotic spray only
  • Trimming + injection + spray
  • Trimming + spray

We then counted how many sheep recovered with each treatment within 10 days.

From these results, you can see that antibiotic injection and antibiotic spray is the best way for sheep to recover quickly. You can also see that anytime trimming was involved in treatment, the recovery rate was lower, even with an antibiotic injection. Find out more about how trimming delays healing.

Antibiotics specifically target bacteria. 

  • The injection treats the bacteria deep inside the tissue
  • The antibiotic spray kills bacteria on the surface of the foot and reduces the spread to other sheep

Consider pain relief
Lameness can be very painful for sheep, especially severe cases of footrot that take time to heal. 
When treating severe cases, you may wish to consider giving pain relief medication – your vet should be able to give you advice on this. Find out more about using pain relief.

Watch the video below to find out how sheep farmer Reg treats sheep with footrot

It is cheaper to treat lame sheep than to have lame sheep in your flock

  • The average cost of a treatment for lameness is £1.20 per ewe.
  • Production costs of lameness vary from £6 – £15 per ewe when lameness levels are at 6 – 8%.
  • Production costs are very low when lameness levels are below 2% and sheep are treated quickly.
  • It is clear that treatment (£1.20/ewe) is much more economical than letting sheep become lame (£6-15/ewe).

Use our financial calculator to see how much money your farm could save by treating lameness quickly and accurately.

Why shouldn’t foobathing be used to treat footrot?

Footbathing is an effective method to treat scald in a large number of lambs or to disinfect a flock’s feet before turnout. However, it is not an effective treatment for footrot because it does not reach bacteria deep inside the tissue. It might even spread the disease more if affected animals run through the footbath before unaffected animals. Farmers who use footbaths instead of treating individual lame sheep have higher levels of lameness, as found in this paper. Watch the video below to find out about sheep farmers’ experiences of using foot bathing.

How can footrot and scald be prevented?

Vaccine: There is one vaccine (Footvax™) which, when used appropriately, and together with all other treatment and control managements, can help reduce the levels of footrot in some flocks. Whilst many farmers reduce footrot without vaccination, others consider it very useful. The vaccine should be used to prevent footrot occurring, not as a treatment once it has occurred. 
Careful planning is required to decide when to use the vaccine. The vaccine has a very irritant base and there are some side-effects that need to be considered before using this vaccine. See the section on vaccination for more detail.

Consider culling: At the start of a lameness control programme most flocks have some ewes and rams that are repeatedly lame with footrot. These sheep are a source of infection to the rest of the flock and also take up a lot of time and money with repeat treatments. Culling these sheep can make a big difference to your levels of lameness.

Find out more about preventing lameness.

What to do next:

Take the quiz on footrot

Back to Footrot:in brief

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