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- Ruminants like sheep, cattle, goats, deer and alpacas have two weight-bearing digits or toes on each foot.
- Horses and ponies have one.
- Pigs have two.
- The weight bearing part of the sole of the foot is made of thick strong horn.
- The non-weight bearing parts of the sole are made of thinner horn.
- Normally the horn grows slowly, like our finger and toenails, and it is usually worn down at the rate it grows by natural wear.
- The horn grows faster than the rate of wear if conditions underfoot are soft and non-abrasive.
- When this happens, the horn becomes overgrown, and that usually means trouble.
- To prevent problems, overgrown horn should be trimmed off.
- It is important when trimming feet to cut only dead horn (like our own toenails), not deeper into sensitive tissue containing blood.
- If you draw blood when you trim feet, you will probably cause painful infection to develop.
- Foot trimming equipment needs to be kept sharp and very clean, with regular disinfection.
Horses, ponies and donkeys
- In horses and ponies, overgrown hooves spread out and bits break off the edges.
- Splits can form in the wall of the feet and painful infections can develop at the base of the splits.
- In donkeys, overgrown hooves can grow out at the front of the foot, slippering up and rocking the animal back onto its heels.
- In horses, ponies and donkeys, overgrown and deformed feet can become very painful.
- They must be treated by carefully trimming back the horn without drawing blood.
- Deformed feet don’t recover without proper trimming by a trained farrier.
- The living tissues that produce horn are extremely sensitive (like our own nail-bed), and infections and splits can cause great pain.
- When there are already infections in the foot, the animal must be treated by an expert such as a veterinarian.
- Laminitis or founder is a very painful condition caused by inflammation of the sensitive tissues called the laminae that produce horn, particularly in the front feet.
- Laminitis causes increased production of distorted horn, so the hoof becomes overgrown and ridged.
- The most common cause of laminitis is obesity, especially in ponies and donkeys.
- Laminitis can be recognised by the ‘lean-back' stance of the affected pony or donkey, as it tries to relieve the pain in its forefeet by leaning back so that most of its weight is carried on its hind feet.
- Veterinary advice and treatment at an early stage are essential, because apart from being very painful, laminitis can lead to permanent crippling and distortion of the feet.
- Occasionally, laminitis is triggered by acute inflammation such as womb infection after foaling, but in most cases it’s the result of too much to eat, ie too much grass.
- With careful management of your pony's diet to keep it in good body condition but not fat, you can dramatically reduce the risk of it developing laminitis.
- If your pony or donkey is fat and has laminitis, it should be on a diet.
- This might involve stabling or yarding, or simply fencing off a small area of the paddock with electric fencing so that it can continue to ‘hang out’ with the other horses.
- The important point to remember is that you must restrict its access to pasture.
- You should offer a slice of hay morning and evening, but you have to impose a strict weight-watcher regime.
- Remember that all animals need ready access to clean drinking water at all times, especially in warm weather.
- Don’t give your dieting pony or donkey any hard feed like concentrates or grain. This can cause laminitis too.
- In ruminants, the horn on the two digits can get so long it curls under the foot or it may grow forward until the toes cross. The excess horn should be trimmed before this happens.
- Overgrown horn curling under the foot can trap mud and dirt, and can predispose to foot rot.
- In foot rot, the horny wall of the digits may separate from the sensitive internal structures and the space becomes filled by dirt.
- If your cattle, sheep or goats are lame and on close inspection you see that the horn has separated from the wall of the foot and it smells rotten, the animal probably has foot rot.
- To treat foot rot, first cut back any overgrown horn. Don’t trim off so much horn that you draw blood. Trim off only excess dead horn, using a clean sharp pair of clippers.
- Put the animals through a footbath containing 10% zinc sulphate (the best), 10% copper sulphate or 4% formalin.
- Stand it in the footbath for at least 5 minutes, preferably 10 minutes.
- Formalin is nasty stuff to deal with, take care when you handle it.
- When the animals leave the footbath, let them stand on clean concrete for a while so that the solution dries on their feet.
- Seek veterinary advice on recommended products and how to run an eradication programme.
- Eradication of foot rot can take a long time and you need to tackle it with a vengeance, but it will be worth it if your animals are very susceptible.
- Cull animals with persistent problems.
- There is a foot rot vaccine available for sheep - see your veterinarian to find out if it’s appropriate for your flock.
Foot scald (or interdigital dermatitis)
- Foot scald can occur when conditions are persistently wet underfoot, especially when the stocking density is high.
- It causes marked lameness, it can develop very quickly and it can be so severe that the affected animal is reluctant to stand.
- The skin between the toes can be either red and swollen, or blanched and white.
- Sheep and goats are most commonly affected, but the condition can also occur in cattle and possibly other ruminants.
- Affected feet don’t stink like foot rot.
- It is caused by a bacterium.
- Animals can recover spontaneously if they are moved to drier pasture.
- Foot bathing in 10% zinc sulphate is an effective treatment.
- Foot abscesses develop between the digits or inside one of the digits.
- There may be a swelling between the digits and/or the affected digit may be hot and very painful.
- The abscesses are caused by bacterial infection, and they make animals very lame indeed.
- Get veterinary help right away, as the condition is very painful and affected animals need treatment including antibiotic injections.
- Healing may take weeks.
- Cull affected animals, as abscesses can recur.