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For all districts

Lameness and foot conditions in goats


SEPTEMBER 1981 Order No. 1595/91


By Dr John Isaac, district veterinary officer, Dandenong

Hoof trimming

In free-range country, especially on rocky or gravelly terrain, little foot trimming of goats is required. Where goats are run entirely on grass or kept in small plots or backyards, foot trimming is essential.

Untrimmed hooves grow into a variety of shapes, eventually putting unusual pressures on leg ligaments and tendons, causing pain and distorting their normal shape. Such goats will then find difficulty in walking and may go down on their knees. This posture can become permanent.

Bucks with problems in their hind feet sometimes have trouble serving does. Some family lines are noted for their bad feet and these goats need their feet trimmed more frequently. Anglo-Nubians generally require less attention to their feet than Saanens.

Good foot-paring shears are desirable for trimming. Feet are easier to trim after rain, or even after half an hour standing on dampened straw. The hooves can become very thick and hard under dry conditions.

The principle in paring is to level the bearing surface of the foot from front to back. The sensitive soft tissues are close to blood vessels in the hoof. Paring should be taken as near as possible to the sensitive tissues without making the foot bleed. There is not much danger of excessive bleeding unless a great deal of the sole is cut away.

In Saanens, a pink tinge can be seen in the sole when blood vessels are near the surface and further paring would cause bleeding; in Anglo-Nubians this early warning sign is not apparent.

Goats' feet may be inspected and pared while the goat stands, by lifting one leg at a time as is done with horses. Alternatively it can be done by turning them up, as with sheep. Whichever method is used, the foot must be still; provided the goat is comfortable, this is usually not a problem.

Good light and careful inspection of the foot during paring are important. The feet should be clean; if mud is caked between the claws, first clear out the mud with the pointed end of the paring shears. Hooves should be trimmed when necessary, perhaps every three months.


Footrot in goats (and sheep) is caused by the bacterial organisms Fusiformis nodosus, and Spirochaeta penortha. The infection spreads when goats walk over the soil or pasture contaminated by infected carrier goats or sheep.

These bacteria do not survive more than two weeks on soil or pasture and probably much less than this in summer.

Footrot can follow the introduction into the herd of an infected animal; for example, a new goat or a goat returning from a show.

Spread occurs most readily during warm, damp periods (spring and autumn) when explosive outbreaks may sometimes occur.

Goats are ripe for outbreaks of footrot when they are kept under muddy conditions; for example, in yards around milking sheds after prolonged rainy periods, or when they are grazing on lush pastures. Footrot is common in bucks kept in small yards that are continually wet.

Footrot often occurs in goats that have overgrown hooves coated in wet mud and dung.

Signs of footrot

Mild to severe lameness in one or more goats is the first sign of footrot. Examination of the feet reveals redness and moistness of the skin between the claws, and often a white or grey 'scum' and loss of hair. A distinctive odor of decomposing tissue is readily smelt.

The horn of the hoof separates from the underlying soft tissue as the infection of the hoof progresses. This is first seen at the junction of the hoof and the skin on the inside of the claw, but eventually involves the heel and then the entire sole. Both claws on the one foot may be affected. Usually a goat will have more than one foot affected.

The main signs of footrot are an under-run horn with a creamy-grey 'scum' between the horn and the underlying tissues. Severe inflammation and the formation of pus or bleeding, are not features of the disease.

Once infected, a goat may be a carrier of footrot for years. Some goats may become apparently "cured" without treatment during the hot, dry summer months, only to have the infection flare up some time later. These goats, which appear to be cured without treatment, can carry infection in small pockets of the hoof overgrown by horn. They will not appear lame and can be detected only by careful paring and examination of the foot.


Owners who suspect that footrot may be in their herd should contact their local office of the Department of Agriculture. District veterinary officers and animal health officers of the department will give advice on the treatment, control, eradication and prevention of footrot in goats.

There are five basic steps:

  • Trim and inspect the feet of all goats in the herd

  • Infected goats should be placed in a separate mob, isolated and treated separately

  • Remove all dead, infected and under-run tissue by paring

  • During paring, dip footrot shears in disinfectant (for
    example, 10% formalin) between treating each goat

  • Immerse all feet in a solution of 5-10% formalin. Copper sulphate (10%) can be used, but it may stain mohair or cashmere fibre and will corrode galvanised iron footbaths.

The "clean" mob, which will consist of goats showing no signs of footrot, should be footbathed and moved into a clean paddock that has not been stocked by sheep or goats for at least two weeks. Re-inspect 4-6 weeks later.

The infected mob may be sold for slaughter or isolated and foot-bathed weekly and then re-inspected in from four to six weeks.

  • Antibiotics are sometimes used to treat valuable stud goats; they are reasonably efficient but expensive.

The agnote, 'What is footrot and how to handle it' gives more details of footrot in sheep and goats.

Foot abscess

Foot abscess is an infection of the foot caused by bacteria, particularly Fusiformus necrophorus. It usually affects only one or two goats rather than the whole herd.

Foot abscess usually follows some injury to the foot such as nail punctures, stone bruises or over-zealous foot trimming.

Signs of foot abscess

The goat is lame and the foot looks 'big'. The toes and the skin between the claws is hot when felt. Yellow pus may be present between the claws. The goat resents any handling of the feet.

The abscess may burst at the coronet (the skin-horn juntion of the hoof) or between the claws where the horn is softest. Sometimes a pocket of pus can be seen under the horn or can be found by paring with footrot shears or a sharp knife.


Early treatment is necessary to prevent damage to the deeper tissues and joints.

The foot should be trimmed until the abscess is opened up. Then wash with a warm solution of antiseptic in water until all debris is cleared away. The cavity remaining should then be filled with an antibiotic cream and the foot put in a sock and bandaged.

This treatment should be repeated twice daily. Penicillin or streptomycin administered daily by intramuscular injection is helpful. Recovery usually takes from seven to 10 days but lameness may persist for some weeks.

Bruised sole

Lameness during movement is the first sign of a bruised sole.

Examination of the affected leg will cause no signs of pain until the sole of the foot is tapped with a solid object such as footrot shears.

In white-hoofed animals, the area of bruising can be seen as a red-black stain under the horn. It is usually located in the angle of the toe and is often caused by jumping down onto concrete or running on stony ground.

More than one foot may be affected at any one time. Forefeet are affected more often than hindfeet.

The over-lying sole should be pared to remove the accumulated blood that forms the bruise. If it is a long-standing bruise, hot fomentations applied for lengthy periods may be needed. Lameness from a bruised sole may persist for some weeks.


Wounds occur from a variety of causes, such as a foot being caught in a wire fence, between slats, or in the fork of a tree.

The foot or leg should be washed in an antiseptic to remove all debris, an antibiotic ointment applied, and the foot should then be bandaged.

Antibiotic injections may be required for severe wounds. Tetanus antitoxin should be given to goats not protected by anti-tetanus (or pulpy kidney-tetanus 2-in-1) vaccination within the previous six months.


Laminitis is a very painful condition of the feet resulting from over-feeding on rich grain foods or changing to a lush type of herbage.

Lameness appears suddenly and is severe. There is a redness and pain when a finger is pressed around the coronet. The swelling may cause the coronet to bulge out. The goat will refuse to walk and may kneel to eat. One of more feet may be affected.


Hot fomentations or mentholated liniments can be applied to the feet of individual animals.

Antihistamines given by injection will reduce inflammation. Cortisone can also be given by injection except to pregnant does. Both of these drugs must be prescribed or administered by a veterinarian.

Epsom salts can be given as a drench if excessive quantities of grain have been eaten recently. Concentrates in the ration should be significantly reduced.

Laminitis often results in a deformed hoof marked with concentric rings and a flattened sole. In exceptionally severe cases, some goats may never walk again and have to be destroyed.

To prevent laminitis, the feed-shed door should be well closed, stale bread should not be fed and rapid changes of feed from a poor to a good paddock should be avoided unless there is also ready access to dry feed.

Bone fractures

Young kids and aged goats are more prone to fractures than other goats.

Most fractures result in obvious lameness of the leg affected, a grating or scraping noise when the bones move against each other, pain on handling and possibly visual evidence of the fracture where the ends of the bone can be seen or felt through the skin.

Fractures heal more quickly in younger animals. Splints are tolerated quite well and most fractures will heal within several weeks.

Prompt veterinary attention is needed for valuable animals or where treatment may be complicated and require bone plating or pinning.

Tetanus warning

Goats are susceptible to tetanus and may develop the disease following wounds resulting from accidents or procedures such as foot paring.

The agnote, 'Clostridial diseases of goats' includes details of tetanus in goats and how it can be prevented.

Routine vaccination of all goats against tetanus is strongly recommended. Two vaccinations four weeks apart, followed by six-monthly booster doses, are needed to fully protect goats from tetanus.

It would be wise to vaccinate goats that have no previous history of tetanus vaccination before carrying out any procedures such as foot paring.

Where emergencies arise, particularly in the case of wounds to stud goats with no previous history of tetanus vaccination, immediate protection can be given by an injection of tetanus antitoxin. Consult your private veterinarian if you require further information.

© 1981 Vic. Dept. Ag.