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Lameness (Treatment, control and prevention of the main causes of foot lameness in sheep)

About Lameness (Treatment, control and prevention of the main causes of foot lameness in sheep)

Lameness is a common problem on sheep farms with farmers concerned about their animals’ welfare, reduced production and profitability, and the ongoing labour and medicines cost associated with prevention, treatment, and management.

In recent years, considerable efforts have been made to reduce the prevalence of lameness across the UK. Efforts have focussed on research into the common causes of lameness in sheep, and in disseminating evidence based and practical advice to farmers. This has in general been successful with national prevalence now reported to be less than 5% on average; however, there are still many farms with persistent issues and the industry has aspired to reduce the national prevalence further to less than 2% as a rolling average.

There are several causes of lameness in sheep and veterinary advice should be sought to ensure an optimal approach is taken to diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and control. Several infectious causes of lameness require treatment with antibiotics, following the axiom ‘as little as possible but as much as necessary’.

Lameness should form a key component of all flock health plans with regular review of treatments and management practices, and a focus on responsible antibiotic use.

Key Points

  • Lameness remains a major challenge for sheep farmers in the UK.
  • The main causes of lameness in sheep are interdigital dermatitis, footrot, and contagious ovine digital dermatitis (CODD), all of which are infectious and contagious diseases.
  • The treatment, prevention, and control of different foot lesions can vary, so an accurate diagnosis is important to be able to deal with the problem effectively.
  • Prompt antibiotic treatments are needed for the treatment of most lameness cases.
  • Foot trimming of lame sheep is no longer recommended. It has been shown that doing so reduces the chances of recovery and increases the risk of transmission of infective bacteria.
  • The Five Point Plan has been adopted by the UK sheep industry as a framework for lameness control, with the five points being: 1) identify and treat lame sheep early; 2) consider vaccinating for footrot; 3) cull out sheep that are repeatedly lame; 4) avoid transmission at high traffic areas; 5) isolate lame sheep and quarantine brought in sheep.
  • Biosecurity is a key component to lameness control and a robust plan should be developed to avoid bringing in new diseases.
  • A holistic whole flock plan should be developed in conjunction with a vet to be able to prevent, manage, control, and treat lameness successfully.

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