Hoof Rot in Goats

Episode 108
For the Love of Goats

Hoof Rot in Goats featured image

All these years I thought we were just lucky to have never had a case of hoof rot in our goats, but in today’s episode, I learned that luck has nothing to do with it.

Dr. Kevin Pelzer, Professor of Production Management Medicine at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, talks about the bacteria that cause hoof rot and hoof scald in goats, how you know your goat has one or the other, as well as the treatment.

We also talk about the prevention of hoof rot, which boils down to good biosecurity, and prevention of hoof scald, which means keeping your goats on dry ground.

We also talk about laminitis, also called founder, and what causes it, as well as the treatment.

Dr. Pelzer also gives us some bonus tips towards the end on how we can reduce the amount of time we have to spend trimming hooves.

Other episodes with Dr. Kevin Pelzer

Episode 112 – Antibiotic for Goats: Availability and Usage
Episode 97 – Vaccines for Goats
Episode 93 – Rabies in Goats

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Transcript – Hoof Rot in Goats

Introduction 0:03
For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here is Deborah Niemann.

Deborah Niemann 0:19
Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s episode! This is gonna be really interesting, and also very educational for me. I frequently joke that I made all the mistakes so you don’t have to. And, this is an area where I actually have very little personal experience, and that is hoof health. Yes, “hoof,” the things your goats walk on. I’ve been very lucky that one of the very first goats I bought—in fact, the fourth goat I bought—had some little tiny hoof issues, which we’ll talk about in a second. But, other than that, we’ve had no problems.

Deborah Niemann 0:48
So, joining us today is Dr. Kevin Pelzer, Professor of production management medicine at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech. Welcome back to the show today, Dr. Pelzer!

Kevin Pelzer 1:00
Great to be here.

Deborah Niemann 1:01
I’m really excited to talk to you about this, because like I said, I really don’t have a whole lot of experience with this. The fourth goat we bought, on the bottom of her hooves, I noticed, when I would trim her hooves, there would sometimes be little black spots. And, if they got big enough—like, if I wasn’t great at trimming her hooves in a timely manner, and they got big enough—it would be stinky. And, I always wondered like, “Ooh, is this the beginning of hoof rot?” But, that’s the only goat that that ever happened to, and I’m lucky it never got any worse. So, I think that’s probably about as simple as you can get in terms of, like, hoof challenges. So, can you tell us what exactly that was that we were dealing with?

Kevin Pelzer 1:05
I suspect what you had was that, at some point in time, the goat probably experienced laminitis. And, when laminitis, or inflammation of the hoof, occurs, there’s disruption of the normal matrix of the hoof during its development. And, as a result, that matrix of the hoof, and the white line which connects the hoof to the soft tissue of the foot, gets damaged, and it doesn’t have the integrity that it should. And, as a result of that, it breaks down, or separates, and allows for dirt and bacteria to get packed in there. And, that’s why you saw all the little black spots. And, when you cut it out, eventually, it probably all went away. And, that’s it.

Kevin Pelzer 1:43
Laminitis is fairly common in goats, as well as sheep. Some of the pastures that we have, especially, like, this time a year and within the next month or so, are rich in a lot of sugars. And, those sugars can cause laminitic effects of the hoof. And then, we won’t see that right away, because the hoof grows about the same rate as one’s hair—about a quarter of an inch to a half an inch a month. So, it’s going to be 4 or 5 months before we see that effect in the hoof wall, if we’re going to see it at all.

Deborah Niemann 3:12
Okay. And, you mentioned that that padding under the hoof separates from the hoof, which is, I guess, for lack of a better word, like a nail. Because at first, I thought, “Oh, that happens because the hoof is not trimmed.” But, when the hoof is not trimmed, it actually usually starts to curl under. So, why exactly does that happen, then?

Kevin Pelzer 3:30
It’s because the hoof wall is not being worn down at the same rate as hoof growth. And, as a result, the way the goat walks, when it puts its foot down, the toes spread, and they spread outward. And so, that pressure on that hoof wall tends to make that hoof wall slide under the sole of the foot, because of that outspreading. And so, that’s why you get that under-run look versus an outer run in those toes.

Deborah Niemann 4:08
Oh, okay. That’s interesting. And so, once in a blue moon, I see a goat that doesn’t curl under. So, I guess that just has to do with the difference in the way that they hold their leg and the way that they walk?

Kevin Pelzer 4:19
And the surfaces that they walk on.

Deborah Niemann 4:21
Okay. All right. Wow, that’s interesting.

Kevin Pelzer 4:24
Yeah. And, those goats that don’t develop the wall growing underneath the sole, their toes will get really long. And so, what’s happening in there is they’re taking care of that growth of the hoof wall on the sides, but because that interfaces with the sole, it’s worn down better than the tip of the toe that continues to grow long.

Deborah Niemann 4:48
Okay. And then, let’s move on to hoof rot, because it’s interesting, when I first moved on to our farm in 2002, you know, I had a couple of different sheep people, you know, asking if I’d had any trouble with hoof rot yet. And, my answer was always “no.” Twenty-one years later, my answer is still “no.” And, it seems like I don’t hear a lot of people with goats talk about hoof rot, but I do hear sheep people talk about it more. So, what exactly is hoof rot? And, is it seen more in sheep? And, if so, why?

Kevin Pelzer 5:21
It can be seen more in sheep. And, that may just be due to the density of sheep versus goats, where, you know, people will have 30 to 50 sheep, whereas goats tend to be smaller groups, like 5 to 10. But, the organism that causes hoof rot, or foot rot, it’s a bacteria, and it is very contagious. So, probably the reason you haven’t had it is because you don’t bring a lot of goats in from outside sources. That’s the main way that it gets onto a farm, is buying replacement animals that are infected with this organism. Or, possibly going to a show, and animals there are subclinical, and the bacteria is laid in that environment and then picked up on the feet of other animals, and then they take it back home. Likewise, it can be picked up on the shoes of visitors. So, people coming to your farm could bring it to you, or you could pick it up by visiting other people’s farms or shows, just like the sheep or the goat. Sheep are a little more sensitive, and will show lameness more so than goats that have foot rot. I looked at a fella’s goats, and three of the four goats had hoof rot, or foot rot, and none of them were actually lame. But, when we trimmed the feet up, you could see the black tar-type stuff and the really nasty smell on those feet.

Deborah Niemann 7:05
So, how would you tell the difference? Because, that’s what I’d heard, and that’s why I wondered, like, if that goat I bought had, like, the beginning of foot rot, because I saw the black spots and it was stinky. So, how do you know when you’ve gone beyond just laminitis and now you’re into foot rot territory?

Kevin Pelzer 7:22
So, when you have foot rot, there will be separation of the hoof wall from the foot. And, it usually starts at the sole, so that the sole is under-run. So, it separates, and then the bacteria gets in there, and it produces some enzymes that actually break down that hoof wall, and then it migrates to the outside and then up the wall. The other is that, with hoof rot, it usually smells really bad, and you kind of get this greasy, black, watery-type material between the hoof wall and the hoof.

Deborah Niemann 8:09
Okay. That definitely sounds worse than what I was seeing on that goat that we had.

Kevin Pelzer 8:14

Deborah Niemann 8:16
It was not greasy; it was just black. So.

Kevin Pelzer 8:18
No, this is… The only thing that I can think of that comes close to it is, if you’re in a lake or a river or a creek, and you get into the mud, and you get that black stuff kind of boil up where you step, and then you step back, and you’ve got that nasty, black, smelly stuff on your feet? That’s kind of that consistency.

Deborah Niemann 8:41
Okay. That gives me a really good picture of what you’re talking about now.

Deborah Niemann 8:47
So, if you have a goat with foot rot, how do you treat it?

Kevin Pelzer 8:50
Well, recently, there’s been some work in England that shows that, in the past, what we did was we would remove all the hoof that wasn’t attached to the foot. And, research out of England has shown that that actually delays healing. And so, we should just trim off the overgrowth and then give those animals antibiotic. An antibiotic that is commonly given—and you’ll need to get approval from your veterinarian for this, because these drugs are used, and it’s not on the label. So, it’s extra-label use. Tetracycline. The long-acting tetracycline works. A product called Zactran, which is gamithromycin, it works very well. It’s expensive, and the withdrawal period for the gamithromycin or the Zactran is 54 days. So, it does have a long withdrawal period. And, it’s a group of antibiotics that causes an extended period of time in regards to milk withdrawal. So, if it’s a dairy animal, tetracycline would be the drug of choice. Whereas, if it’s a meat-type animal or a pet, the gamithromycin or the Zactran would be my preference.

Deborah Niemann 10:18
And those would be injectable?

Kevin Pelzer 10:20
Yes, they’re injectable.

Deborah Niemann 10:22
Okay. And then, about how long does it take to see an improvement? Because, I mean, I think hooves grow really slowly.

Kevin Pelzer 10:29
Yeah. Well, that nasty discharge will disappear in about a week. And, like you said, it will take a while for that hoof wall to repair itself, like weeks. But, it will dry up. That’s the big thing, is it’ll dry up and things will get firm down there and won’t smell anymore.

Deborah Niemann 10:53
And, that’s good news.

Kevin Pelzer 10:54

Deborah Niemann 10:56
All right. Is there anything else people need to know about hoof rot before we move on?

Kevin Pelzer 11:01
That’s about it. If you do use foot baths, that’s a way to help control it. Foot rot, when we see it, it’s usually when the temperatures are greater than 50 degrees and when it’s moist. That’s the time when the organism really survives well in the environment, and that’s the time when it’s going to be spread. So warm, wet times. Areas around feeders and waterers, if they get muddy, is an excellent means to spread it.

Deborah Niemann 11:36
Okay. And, when you said “foot bath,” is that a copper foot bath, and is that to prevent other goats in your herd from getting it if some already have it?

Kevin Pelzer 11:44
Yes. It can be used as part of a prevention and part of the treatment. So, that would be a 10% copper-sulfate solution. Or, you could use a 10% zinc-sulfate solution. There are commercial sprays of zinc sulfate that you can buy in some of the catalogs, and you can use that to spray it on their feet and in between their toes. The big thing there is you need to keep the animals in an area where that can dry on their feet in order to be effective.

Deborah Niemann 12:19
So, if you just put them back in the barn on straw, is that good?

Kevin Pelzer 12:24
It’s not really good, but it’s not all that bad, either. It depends on if the straw is dry, or if the straw has a lot of fecal material and urine in it. Then it could be an excellent harbor of the organism.

Deborah Niemann 12:42
So, maybe deal with this kind of the way you might deal with a mite infestation, and that is, clean out the barn, treat the goats, and then put them back in on the dry straw?

Kevin Pelzer 12:53

Deborah Niemann 12:54
Okay. Every now and then, people will ask—and usually, I think, it’s a theoretical question. And that is… I don’t know that anybody’s ever thought their goat had it. But, people ask about founder in goats. And, I always think of horses, which I know absolutely nothing about.

Kevin Pelzer 13:09
Right. Yes. They can founder, and that’s the laminitis.

Deborah Niemann 13:13

Kevin Pelzer 13:14
Laminitis is… I don’t know the technical or the veterinary term. The lay term is “founder.” And so, yeah, they can founder. And oftentimes, where or when you will see that is when you’re trimming feet; there will be some fine little purple lines in the white line area. So, if you look at the bottom of a foot, and when you trim it, you have the hoof, and then you have a little white line, and then you have the sole of the foot. And, that white line is where the sole and the hoof wall join together. And, that’s where you’ll see these little flakes of purple or red. And, essentially what it is, is dried blood, because you’ll have hemorrhage of the foot. And so, that hemorrhage leaks between the foot and the hoof wall, and that’s the white line area. And, that’s why the white line separates when you have laminitis as well, because you have that swelling, and it separates the hoof from the lamina of the foot.

Deborah Niemann 14:28
Okay. And, why does that happen?

Kevin Pelzer 14:30
It’s because there’s an upset in the rumen microflora, and they produce some toxins that are absorbed that then causes a bunch of histamine to be released. And then, the small blood vessels dilate and leak.

Deborah Niemann 14:49
Okay. So, it is diet-related.

Kevin Pelzer 14:51

Kevin Pelzer 14:55
Over access to grain. And then, like I said, you’ll see mild cases, where you get changes in grass. Especially this time of year, the grass will have more sugars in it than normal.

Deborah Niemann 15:11
Okay. Is there anything else that people need to know? So, as far as, like, trimming and stuff, I’ve noticed there’s a big difference between goats in terms of how fast some wear down their hooves than others. And, a lot of sheep people will say, “Oh, you just trim their hooves once a year when you’re shearing them.” But, I don’t think I’ve ever had a goat that could go a year without having its hooves trimmed. So, what do people need to know about just general maintenance of hooves?

Kevin Pelzer 15:38
Just general maintenance, essentially, is if you notice that the toes are getting long… And, the way you can look at that, especially in light-colored hooves, is you’ll start to notice that at the tip, it’s kind of dark. And, the reason it’s dark is because dirt is packed up in that tip. And so, that should be cut back to that white line connected to the sole. And then, also, if you have, like you discussed earlier, the hoof wall growing underneath the foot, that should be trimmed level to the sole.

Deborah Niemann 16:17
Okay. Anything else people need to know about hoof health?

Kevin Pelzer 16:21
One thing that occurs in goats more so… I mean, it occurs in sheep a fair bit. But with goats, they’ll actually become three-legged lame, with a condition called foot scald. And, what that is, essentially, is the skin between the toes rots. And, the reason that occurs… It’s caused by the same bacteria that causes foot rot, but it’s a different strain; it’s a milder strain. And, when we’ll see that is if you open up the toes, it will smell really bad, like something died in there. And, it looks like somebody poured boiling water on that tissue. So, you’ll get kind of, like, almost an athlete’s foot kind of look to it—the skin—with a really bad smell, and it’d be moist.

Kevin Pelzer 17:12
And, the reason that occurs is because they’re standing around in mud or areas where that inside of their toe can’t dry out. And so, that bacteria gets in there. And, it’s kind of like, you know, if you take a relaxing bath, and you’re in there for half an hour, how your fingers get pruney? Well, the feet essentially get pruney like that. And, that weakens the integrity of the skin, which allows the bacteria to colonize, and then cause its damage. And so, you can treat that with foot baths. You can also treat it with a tetracycline injection. They actually make a solution of tetracycline spray in Europe; I don’t know why we don’t have that here. But, that works really well. I’ll mix up 4 grams of tetracycline in 100 mLs of alcohol, and spray that between the toes. And, if you let it dry, that will do a really good job of cleaning that problem up within a day or two.

Deborah Niemann 18:25
Okay, that’s good to know. Is that particular bacteria just in the environment all the time, or does it have to be brought in?

Kevin Pelzer 18:34
It’s usually brought in, as well. What’s interesting is the organism that causes foot rot, it’s an obligate parasite, meaning that it has to live on the foot. And, it will only live in the environment for 10 to 14 days. Whereas, the organism—even though it’s the same name. It’s just a different strain. That strain can live on the feet and off the feet on and off forever. So, you can’t eradicate the foot scald. But, you can eradicate the foot rot. It’s a weird beast, that one.

Deborah Niemann 19:14
Yeah. That’s really fascinating!

Kevin Pelzer 19:16
Yeah. And, I’ve had other places where they’ve never had foot scald, and then they’ll bring new animals in, and then they will get foot scald. And, it’s not contagious, like foot rot. And so, you’ll just have individual periodic cases of the foot scald, whereas with the foot rot, you’re likely to have a whole herd outbreak.

Deborah Niemann 19:38
Okay. That is interesting, because we used to have a real problem with one of our barns flooding if we would get too much rain. Thankfully, we got that fixed with new gutters and some landscaping to move dirt away from the barn and stuff. But, I know I used to always be really worried when that would happen—you know, when the barn would flood—because it’s pouring rain, so you really you have no place to move the goats. But, we never had a problem with hooves when any of that happened. So, it sounds like we were just lucky that none of those bacterias were on our farm.

Kevin Pelzer 20:11

Deborah Niemann 20:12
Okay. That explains a lot! Is there anything else people need to know about hooves and goats?

Kevin Pelzer 20:19
That’s really about it. One of the things that you can do to help reduce the frequency of trimming hooves is, you know how goats like to climb things. And, some people may have, like, dog houses that the goats climb on, or they’ve built, like, you know, ramps for them to run up and down. If you take shingles, and put the shingles on those objects where they’re running around on, that will help wear down their feet so that you might not have to trim quite as often. The other is to put rocks down around your waterers or your feeders.

Deborah Niemann 21:01
Oh, that is a really great tip about the shingles! I’ve never heard about that before. But, it totally makes sense.

Kevin Pelzer 21:08
Yeah. I mean, shingles is nothing more than—if they made it—kind of like grade 2 sandpaper.

Deborah Niemann 21:16
Yeah, exactly. I think I see a summer project for us, because everybody wants to trim hooves less, right?

Kevin Pelzer 21:24
Yeah. Yeah.

Deborah Niemann 21:25
So, thank you for that tip! That’s awesome. Anything else?

Kevin Pelzer 21:30
That’s really the only big issues with the feet. There’s some more individual-type problems, but they’re very sporadic. But, the foot rot and the foot scald are the two big things that you’ll commonly see.

Deborah Niemann 21:47
Awesome. Well, thank you so much! This has been very educational for me, and I’m sure it’ll be really helpful to people. Thanks for joining us again!

Kevin Pelzer 21:54
Oh, you’re welcome. And, thanks again for having me.

Deborah Niemann 21:57
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit ForTheLoveOfGoats.com, and you can follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next time. Bye for now!

Hoof Rot in Goats

2 thoughts on “Hoof Rot in Goats”

  1. Hoof rot has been a problem for me this year because the rain has been horrendous. My usual fixes for mud have just been overwhelmed. This summer, I’m overhauling my whole system.

    It seems like a terrible idea to give antibiotics for this. Antibiotics are vastly over-prescribed. This is similar or the same as thrush in horses except horses don’t have 2 toes to get mud packed into. Where I’m finding the rot is in the hoof wall between their toes. It’s a black, very stinky cavity that is very painful. It’s on the hoof wall, not the skin.

    The way I’ve been able to stay on top of this (but I hate using it because I don’t like using chemicals for anything) is to apply Kopertox. It works so fast, a goat that is lame when I trim them and use the Kopertox, is sound the next day.

  2. I have found hoof and heel works great, sounds like the comment about using coppertox, the next day the hoof is hard and they seem great. If the sole is white and flaky it helps this as well. I practice bio security and don’t normally allow farm visits and if I do with family or good friends, no shoes are allowed that have been worn on another farm and use a chlorihexadine foot bath.


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