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Lameness in Sheep and Goats

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

Sheep and goats suffer from some lameness issues that are similar to cattle, but their hooves are completely different. Most, but not all, lameness issues in ruminants are in the hoof. Identifying the cause of lameness is critical to proper treatment and prevention.

Hoof Rot

Unlike foot rot in cattle, hoof rot is not typically treated with antibiotics. Hoof rot is found in the hoof where there is a separation between between the sole and the hard outer hoof wall. It carries a strong odor. Lameness can be mild to severe. This is a contagious disease and is exacerbated by damp conditions. Good prevention practices include quarantining new animals for 30 days to prevent introduction of the bacteria causing hoof rot; regular hoof trimming; and keeping the environment clean and dry. Hoof trimmers should be disinfected regularly and between each animal if trimming infected individuals. Trailers should also be cleaned and disinfected. Areas that can’t be disinfected should be allowed 14 days of rest before reintroducing sheep or goats. Zinc or copper sulfate footbaths are helpful when the issue is widespread in the herd. A vaccine does exist for this disease, but is not commonly used in our area.

Foot scald

Foot scald is infection of the skin between the hooves, rather than the hoof itself. This condition is more similar to foot rot in cattle and does require treatment with a systemic antibiotic. Lameness is usually severe with affected individuals avoiding bearing weight and grazing in a kneeling position. Foot scald also has a very strong smell and maggots can be a secondary issue during fly season. Damp, muddy conditions are typically responsible for causing irritation to the skin allowing infection to take place. Foot scald is usually an individual animal issue, rather than a contagious herdwide issue. However, poor environment can lead to multiple cases in a herd. Response to treatment is typically rapid, but recurrence is possible if environmental conditions persist.


Arthritis is common in older, obese pet goats. Maintaining a normal body condition throughout life is the best prevention. There is also a viral condition, Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE), that causes arthritis in ~20% of infected goats. There is no cure for CAE, but there is a blood test for the virus. Many herds test routinely for this virus to maintain a CAE free herd. Quality of life can be maintained in arthritic goats through the use of anti-inflammatories.


While all types of livestock can sustain injuries through the course of their lives, goats seem particularly creative in seeking out trouble. We see goats injured from jumping, tangling with fence, or getting on the wrong side of a horse, among other causes. Soft tissue injuries often respond to confinement and anti-inflammatories. We repair fractures by placing a fiberglass cast on the limb. Prognosis for recovery is best in younger and smaller animals. Prognosis is also better lower in the limb rather than upper limb. Open fractures, where bone is protruding from the skin carries a poor prognosis for recovery.

Lameness is a welfare concern and can impair growth, body condition and milk production. Proper management, including regular trimming, dry housing conditions and good nutrition, can often reduce you chances of lameness in goats and sheep. If you are considering new additions to your herd, check for foot lesions or signs of infection and quarantine new animals on your farm for several weeks.

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