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Small Ruminant Research 76 (2008) 149–153

Lameness in sheep
A.C. Winter
Department of Veterinary Clinical Science, University of Liverpool, Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Neston CH64 7TE, United Kingdom Available online 1 February 2008

Abstract This paper highlights the importance of sheep lameness in both welfare and economic terms. The importance of correct diagnosis when dealing with a lameness problem is emphasised. The diseases causing lameness on a whole-flock basis (interdigital dermatitis, footrot and contagious ovine digital dermatitis) are discussed, particularly the diagnostic features, the treatment and the appropriate control measures. Attention is drawn to other causes of lameness, which may be confused with these important causes of lameness. © 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Sheep; Health; Welfare; Lameness; Footrot; Interdigital dermatitis; Contagious ovine digital dermatitis

1. Introduction Lameness is a common cause of welfare and economic concerns in most sheep-keeping countries. There are many causes, including important notifiable systemic diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease and bluetongue, diseases affecting the joints (particularly in young lambs) and diseases affecting the feet. This review article will address only foot problems, since these are extremely common and the most important are caused by infectious agents, therefore are of significance on a whole-flock basis. Making a correct diagnosis is a key feature in treating and controlling lameness. If a flock problem is presented, sufficient animals should be examined in order to gain a clear picture of the cause(s). More than one type may be present; early or chronic cases may confuse the diagnostic process if too few animals are examined.

Trimming feet is usually necessary to confirm a diagnosis, but this should always be carried out with great care, removing only obviously loose horn and avoiding causing bleeding. Over-trimming is highly undesirable and may cause permanent damage to the feet (for example, toe granulomas are most often associated with over-trimming). The routine trimming of uninfected feet is no longer recommended, other than to remove grossly overgrown horn which may crack and cause future problems if unattended. 2. Welfare and economic impacts Sheep are stoical prey animals that usually exhibit few obvious signs of pain or distress. The fact that a sheep is demonstrably lame, therefore, indicates that the animal is experiencing pain. Detrimental effects of chronic lameness on bodyweight, lamb growth rates and wool growth have been demonstrated (Stewart et al., 1984; Marshall et al., 1991). Hyperalgesia has also been shown to exist in lame sheep. This is an indirect indicator of pain and has been demonstrated to have a duration of between 1 week and 3 months (Ley et

This paper is part of the special issue entitled “Current issues in Sheep Health and Welfare” guest edited by George C. Fthenakis. E-mail address: a.winter@liverpool.ac.uk. 0921-4488/$ – see front matter © 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.smallrumres.2007.12.008

It is common for a mixture of diseases to be present in some flocks. nodosus invading with or following F. PCR. it is important to take into account its duration.C. with extensive separation of horn from deeper structures. Common types of foot lameness There are three important types of foot lameness caused by infectious agents. scald).g. a ubiquitous environmental organism also present in faeces. allowing invasion with F.8 M approx. The transmitting agent of footrot is D.. nodosus is not present. Wet pasture or damp bedding cause loss of skin integrity. Thus lameness has a huge impact world-wide on the economics of sheep production.150 A. the microbiology of these forms of lameness has been simplistically described as being relatively distinct. Several papers on ID and footrot have been published which relied on diagnosis made by farmers (e. as well as from apparently healthy sheep in the same flocks. Estimates of the economic impact of lameness (specifically for footrot) have been made. 2005) estimated total costs for treatment and loss of production to be in excess of NZ$ 11 M (= D 6. with D. In assessing the impact of lameness on flock welfare. 2007). with lesions limited to the interdigital space and little under-running of horn. Other foot problems which may be confused with footrot include white line disease.. which can show a high prevalence in affected flocks. clinical appearance and difficulties in differential diagnosis The differential diagnosis of most common foot lesions has been described (Winter.2. reddened or grey in colour with loss of hair. 2006). 3. this disease has been identified only in the UK and.9 M (= D 20. scald) As the name suggests. which is extremely common in many UK flocks. In the UK. So far. Moore et al. classic footrot lesions will also be present in some animals). the lesion remains confined to the skin of the interdigital space. (2005b) did find treponemes in 70% of CODD lesions. • Contagious ovine digital dermatitis (CODD).35 approx. 4. 4. Winter / Small Ruminant Research 76 (2008) 149–153 al. 1995). but may also cause mild under-running of the sole. nodosus was also present. 2004. necrophorum. nodosus isolated from sheep suffering clinically from all three conditions. 4. caused by Fusobacterium necrophorum. 2005).). and toe and pedal joint abscesses. Benign footrot. or virulent. Wassink et al. Footrot Much of the detailed work on footrot has been carried out in Australia. Uruguay. in flocks with an established footrot problem.. although it can affect all ages throughout the year. caused by avirulent strains of D. (2005a) using cultural techniques. Preventive measures were estimated to cost a further £ 13. However. associated with a treponeme similar to that associated with digital dermatitis in cattle. which affect individuals rather than flocks. which is why it is essential to examine sufficient animals to establish a correct diagnosis.. necrophorum. recent work by Moore et al. caused by Dichelobacter nodosus following an initial interdigital infection with F.) annually. If D. intensity and prevalence. Winter and Fitzpatrick. • Interdigital dermatitis (ID. CODD has a different appearance and should not be confused with these other conditions. It was emphasised that a relatively small decrease in incidence could bring significant financial benefits nationally. this condition is restricted to the interdigital skin between the claws and is particularly common in growing lambs in spring and autumn.5 M approx. benign footrot or very early virulent footrot (however. although this is not easily achieved as insufficient flock records may exist (Fitzpatrick et al. supporting a possible role in this disease. but there is a view that not all farmers are competent enough to diagnose and distinguish between the various conditions (Lewis. protease zymogram and serogrouping has shown a much less clear-cut picture. Pathogenesis. nodosus. 2004a.b).1. Although a mixed bacterial flora can be obtained from most infected feet. Whereas healthy skin is dry and covered by short hairs. a parasite of sheep’s feet which can live . Nieuwhof and Bishop (2005) estimated that treatment costs and performance loss total £ 10 M (= D 14. 2006. although in many cases D.. necrophorum infection. shows a similar picture. A survey in New Zealand (Hickford et al. • Footrot. It can be responsible for acute lameness even though the lesion appears minor compared with those in more extensive footrot cases. Interdigital dermatitis (ID. Careful examination of the skin/horn junction towards the back of the interdigital space will reveal whether separation of the sole has commenced.) annually. Footrot may be benign. Interdigital lesions may indicate the presence of ID. 1989. infected interdigital skin appears moist. possibly.

and avoiding muddy conditions in gateways. (2003). Little is known about the epidemiology of this condition apart from the finding of treponemes in some cases. which cause a range of clinical presentations from mild (benign) to highly invasive (virulent).1. Devitalisation of the interdigital skin by a wet environment is necessary to allow prior or simultaneous infection with F. Contagious ovine digital dermatitis The clinical picture differs from that of classic footrot in that the initial lesion begins with ulceration and loss of hair at the coronary band.3. prevalence and persistence of the disease (Egerton. Treatment. Recently.. invasion and underrunning of horn in benign cases to severe under-running and separation of the sole and wall in virulent cases with exposure of underlying sensitive tissues. which has also been isolated. local application of an antibiotic spray (oxytetracycline) is often effective. due to the ubiquitous presence of F. Although there may be some disagreement between various authors concerning detail of treatment and control of footrot. In untreated chronic cases there may be irreversible changes to the affected claw. severity. Clinical signs vary from mild inflammation of the interdigital space and little. is essential. These animals may remain carriers and are important in maintaining infection within a flock. Wassink et al. • Foot trimming should only be carried out sufficiently in order to make a diagnosis or to remove obviously . dry weather. but Lewis (2006) subsequently drew attention to dangers in drawing conclusions based on farmer diagnosis. The lesion then progresses rapidly down the hoof wall. D.C. depending on characteristics of the bacterial fimbrae and the proteases produced by the bacteria. outdoors also assists in reducing the risk. often leading to complete detachment of the horn capsule. is unclear (Moore et al. causing separation of horn from the underlying sensitive laminae. Substantial genetic variation in resistance to natural and experimental infection with D. 2007). including in the UK. well-maintained handling facilities is the best method of control. Genetic marker tests for resistance are now being exploited in New Zealand and investigated elsewhere. 4. There is also some evidence that turning treated animals on to pasture not grazed by sheep for at least 2 weeks may help in control (Wassink et al. If small numbers are affected. nor in very cold weather. Invasion always occurs from the interdigital space near to the heel and proceeds from there across the sole. Green et al. Routine foot trimming more than once yearly was associated with a significantly higher prevalence. Natural healing may eventually occur in some cases. nodosus. necrophorum. Winter / Small Ruminant Research 76 (2008) 149–153 151 in the environment for only about 1 week. control and prevention of ID and footrot Much work has been done on the management of ID and footrot. Transmission from infected to uninfected sheep does not occur in a dry environment. Risk factors associated with the prevalence of footrot in UK were described by Wassink et al. 2007). cheesy material under the loosened horn. There is exudation of serum and necrosis of tissues leading to the accumulation of a characteristically smelly. This was extensively summarised by Stewart (1989). and the role of D. clean bedding for housed sheep. 2005b). necrophorum which facilitates entry of D. the following principles for treatment are generally accepted. (2005) also reported on farmers’ practices. nodosus. nodosus has been demonstrated (see review by Bishop and Morris.. if any. with failure of regrowth of normal horn. such as cracks and discolouration of horn. Keeping the environment as clean and dry as possible by providing ample. but some hooves may remain deformed or have localised abnormalities. such as that resulting from prolonged periods of hot. and that footbathing with either formalin (2–3%) or zinc sulphate (10%) using good. In both cases. They identified isolation of bought-in sheep and the separation and individual treatment of diseased sheep with parenteral antibiotics. Control 5. but there are a number of different serogroups and strains of different virulence. 2004). around feeding troughs etc. Whether an animal develops footrot depends on interactions between the host. 5. grey. the agent and the environment which determine the onset. nodosus. (2007) have investigated the effect of control measures within one flock by following individual sheep. turning treated animals immediately on to wet pasture reduces the efficacy. Current views have been summarised by Hosie (2004) and reviewed by Abbott and Lewis (2005). some of their conclusions were challenged by Abbott et al.A. The general concensus is that ID is difficult or impossible to prevent. opinions and attitudes to footrot and ID. The agent. foot trimming and topical foot sprays as being associated with a significantly lower prevalence of footrot in a flock. However. (2003). They concluded that prompt antibacterial treatment to all sheep with footrot or ID would assist in recovery and prevent disease in other sheep in the flock.

they are an important potential cause of mistaken diagnosis for footrot. Success has also been reported with parenteral tilmycosin. Rapid parenteral treatment with antibiotics (penicillin/streptomycin mixture at twice the licensed dose rate. Granulomas. acute. Putting sheep on to pasture free of sheep for 2 weeks will ensure that the ground is free of D. Littlejohn. 2006). and most success has been reported by using antibiotic footbaths or sprays containing either tylosin or a lincomycin/spectinomycin combination repeated on several occasions at intervals of a few days. unless treatment is rapid and vigorous. Footbathing of the whole group or flock is effective if done correctly in well-maintained. and animals are not immediately returned to wet pasture. Treatment. depending on stand-in time. since they can remain infectious for several weeks. but often become covered by loose horn. 1989. 1972). Deep sepsis of the pedal joint (foot abscess) is a serious condition usually affecting one digit in individual animals (West. dry periods of weather can be forecast. It leads to severe. for 2–6 weeks. A very successful . Trimming loose horn should be left until healing has occurred. so care should always be exercised in using this chemical. Winter / Small Ruminant Research 76 (2008) 149–153 • • • • • • • • loose horn. Foot trimming has no part to play in prevention of footrot or ID. Australia. and works best where prolonged. The old-fashioned view of extensive paring “to let the air in” is no longer tenable and often leads to further damage to the foot. Although white line lesions cause lameness in a minority of animals. clean handling areas. 6. Other foot conditions causing lameness Interdigital problems also include impaction of the interdigital space with mud. predictable. prolonged lameness with permanent damage and deformity of the affected claw. grass or manure (soil balling) and interdigital hyperplasia. White line lesions are extremely common in sheep in UK and some other countries. This usually brings about rapid healing provided treated animals are held in dry conditions for 24 h. Winter. leaving a gap (shelly hoof) into which dirt and debris becomes impacted and pus formation can result in some cases. so it is difficult to recommend specific control measures other than taking biosecurity precautions to prevent introduction into uninfected flocks. usually at the toe. They are a cause of chronic lameness and may Footrot can be successfully eradicated from individual flocks or whole regions. treatment time has varied from as little as 2 min to as long as 1 h and must be repeated at intervals of 2–3 days or weekly.2. hot. 1972. and were most common in sheep of 3 years or older (Winter and Arsenos. are a common result of over-trimming causing bleeding. Treatment using products recommended for footrot has often proved unsuccessful.C. or tilmicosin) for animals with under-run lesions. Formalin (3–5%) can be used as a walkthrough treatment. Recent work in one flock showed that 75% of sheep examined had a white line lesion in at least one claw. Foot trimmings should be carefully disposed of. For zinc sulphate. nodosus infection. usually referred to as ‘toe abscess’. These both predispose to ID.152 A. Vaccination can be helpful for both treatment and prevention of the disease. providing this is done correctly. but requires hard work and dedication on the part of the flock owner and shepherd. A varying extent of separation of the wall from the underlying laminae occurs along the white line. lesions were more prevalent in the inner claws of the front feet.b). 2004a. Handling pens and footbaths can lead to spreading of infection if they are not well-maintained and clean. Isolation of bought-in sheep is crucial to prevent introduction of footrot and other important infectious diseases. before returning to the field can help in preventing spread. it is highly unlikely to be infectious and seems to be related to horn quality. These consist of very vascular outgrowths of granulation tissue which rarely heal untreated. The cause(s) are unknown. Repeated use of formalin at high concentrations can cause permanent foot damage (Hooper and Jones. Footbathing. A more localised defect in the white line can also lead to pus formation. eradication programme for virulent footrot has been carried out in New South Wales. It is important to recognise that gathering sheep for various procedures other than foot care can result in foot infection being spread through the flock. 5. long-acting oxytetracycline. or zinc sulphate (10–20%) as a stand-in solution. control and prevention of CODD Virtually nothing is known about the epidemiology of CODD. Separation of infected from uninfected animals prevents spread and enables concentration on treatment of the infected animals.

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