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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 painful and debilitating condition and is an extremely common cause of welfare concerns for sheep throughout the world.

It has major impacts on productivity, for example, lame ewes often have lower scanning and lambing percentages, are of lower body condition score and are at risk of other diseases, such as pregnancy toxaemia. Lambs of affected ewes have lower body weight taking greater time and costs to finish. Economic loss associated with reduced productivity, together with time and costs of treating lameness in sheep flocks can therefore be considerable. There are many causes of the condition, but where lameness affects a significant proportion of a flock, infectious agents are usually involved.

Veterinary advice should be sought to confirm diagnosis and to formulate a plan to treat and control, in particular if lameness is sudden in many animals, persistent or fails to respond quickly to commonly used treatments.

Key Points

  • Lameness is an important welfare concern and results in significant economic loss. Consult your vet if many sheep are lame or fail to respond to treatment.  In most cases lameness is treatable.
  • Lame sheep should be attended to as soon as practically possible and infectious forms of lameness dealt with on a flock basis.
  • The most important causes of lameness in the national flock are interdigital dermatitis (scald) and footrot which are essentially different stages of the same condition.
  • A relatively new, serious, infectious disease called contagious ovine digital dermatitis (CODD) is becoming a problem in many flocks and can cause severe lameness.
  • Adequate facilities are necessary to make routine foot inspection practical to carry out. These include good handling facilities and footbaths appropriate to flock size.
  • Routine paring of healthy feet is unnecessary and paring is no longer recommended as part of the treatment or prevention of footrot.
  • It is important to be aware that infectious forms of lameness can be introduced by bought in sheep.
  • Foot health, including shape, horn quality and susceptibility to footrot may at least partially be inherited; thus more attention could be paid to selecting breeding stock with sound feet and culling those with issues.

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