It’s raining and while farmers are celebrating the rain, some of their livestock, especially goats and sheep are unfortunately crawling on their knees or struggling on painful rotten feet. There tends to be increased lameness in the animals due to foot rot disease around this time of the year since the warm wet weather conditions soften the hooves and soft tissues between the toes, making the foot more susceptible to infections.
Foot rot is caused by bacteria that enter the feet, especially if there’s a wound such as when goats and sheep browse in sharp stone areas, or they get injured by thorns. Tick bites can also cause wounds on animal hooves that worsen the cause of foot rot. Most of the time, more than one hoof of an animal will be infected. This is especially common where animals walk in places full of accumulated water for a long time. In some villages where water points or kraals are surrounded by wet or muddy grounds, foot rot bacteria are particularly common. Some researchers claim that insufficient zinc can result in deformed hooves, which crack and provide entry points for bacteria.
Inspection of the hoof will show separation of the horny portions of the hoof from the soft tissue. The hooves get swollen and are painful, especially between the horny parts. When you open the hooves, you will often get a disgusting rotten smell due to the accumulation of pus.
Before any treatment of foot rot is attempted, you have to remove any foreign objects such as nails and small stones from the hoof. Pay particular attention to the space between the horny surface and the soft tissue. You can also use a sharp knife to scrap away any dead or infected tissues around the hoof. In case the hoof is overgrown, perform a complete hoof trimming then trim away any horny “toe nail” from the affected area.
The most important treatment regime is to thoroughly clean the hoof to remove all traces of dirt and pus. Use warm water with an antiseptic solution such as Betadine®, Dettol®, or Savlon®. Although some farmers just lift and wash the foot, it is easier to put the warm antiseptic water in a bucket and just place the whole foot in there for thorough cleaning. Rotten hoofs should be washed every day until they are healed. This is where most farmers go wrong - they wash and treat once and that’s it. But it is important to kill the bacteria for the wound to heal properly.
After cleaning the feet, most vets will advise a combination of an antibiotic such as penicillin or oxy-tetracycline injections plus a topical (direct) medication such as wound spray or wound oil applied to the infected and surrounding areas.
All the infected animals should be quarantined in a kraal or smaller camp but just don’t let them out with the rest of the herd and don’t leave “clean” animals in with them.
For prevention of the rest of the herd, it’s important to keep the kraal hygienic by clearing out the dung and mud daily during the rainy days. In some countries like Australia; a vaccine is regularly used to prevent foot rot but it is, unfortunately, not available in Namibia.
A preventive measure that seems to work is the use of a daily footbath of zinc sulfate mixed in water. The veterinary drug supplier should be consulted regarding this mixture. By stirring in one cup of laundry or dish soap in the footbath, it will prevent the zinc sulfate not to stick too much on the hoof, thus allow it to fall off more easily from the hooves. Every day when the animals are passing through the gate, they should pass through the footbath to get to feeds or water points. Don’t worry too much when they are reluctant initially to walk through it, as they will quickly adapt. The solution must be replenished and changed regularly. Be careful to always provide available good quality drinking water and salt so that the goats are not forced to drink the footbath solution.
Foot rot is expensive, especially in the form of increased labour and purchasing of drugs. Animals that cannot walk correctly, because of foot rot will not grow as well as the rest of their herdmates and have a decreased value to you as a breeder and to prospective meat market buyers.
Such animals will also find it difficult to escape predators. Does will definitely not stand to be bred and bucks may not be able to mount the doe if a rear hoof is badly infected. Thus, thorough timely treatment of affected animals is important to avoid severe reduction in production of these valuable animals.