HOOF ROT, HOOF SCALD, AND HOOF ABSCESSES
Hoof diseases in goats are a health problem as well as an economic liability, because a goat that has lost its ability to stand, walk, and forage is not a productive animal. Leg tendons begin to contract within 24 hours on a goat that is 'down' and cannot get up, making a bad situation even worse. Weight loss in the goat results in money lost to the producer.
Fusobacterium nodosum and Actinomyces pyogenes are common bacterial causes of hoof rot and hoof scald. Hoof rot occurs on the sole of the hooves and between the wall and the hoof, while hoof scald occurs between the hoof's claws ("toes"). Both hoof rot and hoof scald are contagious and are frequently seen in hot wet climatic conditions. Standing water provides an ideal incubation condition for the spread of foot rot and foot scald. Wet ground in hot weather softens the hoof and keeps it moist, making injury more likely and allowing bacteria to penetrate. Hoof rot and hoof scald rarely occur in arid hot climates, even when goats are maintained in crowded conditions. Hoof abscesses occur when the inner structure of the foot is injured and an infection sets in; the most common causative agent is Fusobacterium necrophorum. Ticks may take advantage of favorable conditions, causing deep wounds between the claws that result in hoof abscesses.
Herd management is a major factor in the development of hoof infections. Marshy pastures, overcrowding, and overgrown hooves are major causes. Because these diseases are highly infectious, bringing in goats that already have the diseases or turning goats out on infected pastures are methods of disease transmission. Participating in goat shows where a producer's goats may encounter infected animals is another method of introducing hoof diseases into the herd.
Certain dietary conditions can predispose goats to conditions which can lead to hoof diseases. Zinc deficiency can result in swollen and/or deformed hooves and can cause lesions or cracks which provide a route for bacteria to enter the hoof. Zinc is essential to protein synthesis and cell division. Too much calcium in the diet (but not calcium from legumes) can lead to zinc deficiency. Goats who quit eating and begin loosing weight as a result of zinc deficiency will resume their feed intake in less than a day after a minimal amount of zinc (10 mg/kg) is added to their diets. Male goats may need somewhat more zinc in their diets than do females.
Routine hoof trimming is vital. Overgrown hooves tend to turn inward and curl over the sole of the hoof, providing an incubation site for the anaerobic bacteria (organisms that thrive without oxygen) which cause these diseases. This author has an article, with diagrams, on Hoof Trimming on the Onion Creek Ranch website's Articles Page.
Lameness is the first sign of hoof rot; the smell of rotting tissue is unmistakable. Hoof scald is equally painful and debilitating to the goat, but odor is not normally present. Generally, both hoof rot and hoof scald affect more than one hoof, while hoof abcesses are restricted to one hoof and sometimes even to one claw of the hoof. The hoof is swollen, hot, and painful when touched. Pus pockets in between the claws are common.
Hoof problems in goats are often chronic because they are directly related to management and environmental conditions. Therefore, getting control over the circumstances which cause the problem is vital.
Proper hoof trimming must be regularly and routinely followed by antibacterial footbaths and oftentimes antibiotic treatment, both systemically through antibiotic injections and topically via application of products such as Kopertox and zinc sulfate. Note: Remember to disinfect the trimmers after each goat's hoofs are trimmed to prevent the spread of infectious bacteria. Trimming the hooves removes the dead tissue and exposes the anaerobic bacteria to oxygen in which it cannot live for long. Infected hoof trimmings should be burned or otherwise permanently disposed of to prevent re-contamination. Pus pockets must be drained before a hoof abscess can begin to heal. It is important to clean the infected area throughly with hydrogen peroxide, chlorhexadine, Nolvasan, or equivalent after hoof trimming has been done and before applying topical medications.
Antibacterial footbaths can work, but the problem is getting goats to walk through them, given their natural aversion to getting their hooves wet. Producers need to study their pen layouts and determine how best to utilize footbaths. The footbath must be located where the goats must walk through it every day on their way to feed, water, pasture, and/or shelter. The footbath must be both non-toxic and non-irritating. A solution of zinc sulfate is recommended, since other products (copper sulfate and formalin, for example) may either sting, give off irritating fumes, or be toxic if ingested by the goats. One producer reports that he successfully uses a solution of three parts turpentine and one part Hoof N Heal mixed and dispersed via a spray bottle.
Formalin (10% buffered formaldehyde) is an excellent disinfectant for controlling problems such as hoof rot/scald/abscesses -- and even soremouth and caseous lymphadenitis. While it is not suitable for use in a footbath, formalin works well when painted full strength onto an infected hoof after the diseased area has been cleaned and dried. If the hoof has abscessed, soak a cotton pad with formalin and wedge it into the abscess -- changing daily. It may be necessary to wrap the hoof to keep the cotton-soaked formalin in place.
Some footbath products will stain the goats' hair when spashed onto the animals' bodies. This is an economic liability for hair-goat producers. In all cases, treated goats should not be turned back into contaminated paddocks but instead should be housed on dry ground or on raised platforms with drainage slots to allow the hooves to dry and the antibacterial footbaths to be effective.
Systemic injections of antibiotics are helpful when used in conjunction with footbaths and uninfected pastures. Oxytetracycline 200 mg/ml (LA200 or equivalent) is particularly effective in combatting infectious hoof diseases. If infected goats are not current on tetanus toxoid vaccinations, then tetanus anti-toxin should be given in conjunction with other treatments. Tetanus is also caused by a bacteria which flourishes in an anaerobic environment.
Intervet makes a hoof rot vaccine for sheep and cattle (brand name VOLAR) that is available without prescription from mail-order houses and is safe for use with pregnant females in those two species. Although its application with goats is off-label, some producers are reporting success using it.
Control over infectious hoof diseases can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Maintaining a completely closed herd is one method. This means never participating in shows and not buying animals from other producers. Since this is not very realistic, the breeder should carefully inspect all newly-purchased animals for hoof problems and inquire about the source herd's health conditions. Running the new goats through a footbath and quarantining them for at least two weeks is sound herd management, both for infectious hoof diseases as well as other illnesses. Hard, rocky ground upon which the goats can walk and climb contributes to hoof health. Routine trimming and use of walk-through footbaths during hot wet weather is recommended.
Heritability can be a factor in hoof diseases in goats. Some breeds . . . indeed, some lines in certain breeds . . . tend to have hoof problems more than others. Because of this, it may advisable to consider consistently bad feet in a particular goat and its offspring to be a cull factor. Selective breeding programs should focus on many characteristics, including healthy feet.
Important! Please Read This Notice!
All information provided in these articles is based either on personal experience or information provided by others whose treatments and practices have been discussed fully with a vet for accuracy and effectiveness before passing them on to readers.
In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Suzanne Gasparotto is not a veterinarian.Neither tennesseemeatgoats.com nor any of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.
The author, Suzanne Gasparotto, hereby grants to local goat publications and club newsletters, permission to reprint articles published on the Onion Creek Ranch website under these conditions: THE ARTICLE MUST BE REPRODUCED IN ITS ENTIRETY AND THE AUTHOR'S NAME, ADDRESS, AND CONTACT INFORMATION MUST BE INCLUDED AT THE BEGINNING OF THE REPRINT. We would appreciate notification from any clubs or publications when the articles are used. (A copy of the newsletter or publication would also be a welcome addition to our growing library of goat related information!)
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