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Foot abscess in sheep and cattle

Rain is always very welcome in autumn and winter, but the resultant lush, moist and often muddy pastures bring a range of disease problems.

Foot abscess is one of the serious problems seen at Crookwell Veterinary Hospital in both sheep and cattle during wet wintry conditions. Early detection and treatment are essential for a successful outcome.

Predisposing factors include wet, muddy pastures combined with livestock that are heavy from good feed and/or late pregnancy. Constant moisture around the hooves causes softening and breaks in the skin, and the resultant surface dermatitis allows a range of infectious agents to penetrate the deeper soft tissues of the hoof. There are no specific organisms involved – it’s usually a cocktail of infectious bugs from the environment that causes foot abscess – but once through the protective skin layers, the organisms flourish and rapidly develop into a highly painful infection and ultimately, a swollen pus-filled abscess.

Clinical Signs

Livestock producers need to be vigilant and on the lookout for even the slightest lameness in their sheep and cattle. The infection can develop in one or more feet, and it’s usually easy to see the pink, hot and painful early swelling, often accompanied by a spreading of the toes.


We can’t stress enough the importance of early treatment! Long acting antibiotics, when administered early in the disease process, can lead to a complete cure – please ring us to discuss treatment options. If the infection is ignored and allowed to develop, the pus frequently tracks into the joints of the hoof, leading to a difficult to treat, chronic and painful infectious arthritis.

The intense pain also has secondary impacts. Affected animals become reluctant to eat and in heavily pregnant ewes, this predisposes to pregnancy toxaemia.

Critical points

  1. Foot abscess is a serious disease. It can have a significant impact on productivity and in severe cases, death can occur.
  2. The condition is extremely painful – animals are reluctant to move around to graze, pregnant ewes can develop pregnancy toxaemia and lambing ewes can lose a high proportion of lambs.
  3. Don’t ignore the potential for foot abscess in cattle herds as well as sheep flocks, it’s just as serious.
  4. Early treatment is essential to prevent infectious arthritis and a subsequent painful, chronic lameness.