Merck Manual

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Professional Version

Overview of Lameness in Sheep


Evelyn MacKay

, DVM, Texas A&M University

Reviewed/Revised Jun 2022 | Modified Oct 2022

Lameness in sheep is often due to injuries. Limb fractures are common in young lambs, which are frequently injured inadvertently by adults. Usually, limb splints and casts may be used for stabilization of injuries, with fractures healing within 3–6 weeks. However, leaving the limb immobilized and unobserved for too long may also lead to iatrogenic lameness. The general principles of treatment and prevention of musculoskeletal injuries are the same as in other species.

Lameness in sheep can be caused by a group of infections specific to the feet. The most well known of these is contagious footrot Contagious Footrot in Sheep When there is invasion by Dichelobacter nodosus of interdigital dermatitis, contagious footrot results. Whereas in Australia, footrot is separated into benign or virulent categories,... read more Contagious Footrot in Sheep , an infection with Dichelobacter nodosus. The skin between the claws is the primary site of invasion; it is predisposed to infection by breaks in the epidermis from injury or from prolonged exposure to moisture. Fusobacterium necrophorum and Trueperella pyogenes induce a transient condition called ovine interdigital dermatitis, or foot scald, and may be involved in coinfections with D nodosus in ovine footrot or precede a footrot outbreak.

Weakness, ataxia, and neurologic signs may be misinterpreted as lameness in diseases such as scrapie, listeriosis, and maedi visna.

Additional information on differential diagnosis, treatment, and prevention can be found under the specific topics ( see Musculoskeletal System Introduction Musculoskeletal System Introduction and The Neurologic Examination The Neurologic Examination ).

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