What Is Hoof-and-Mouth Disease?

hoof-mouth-disease Credit: Khaedar Arman / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

Hoof-and-mouth disease, also sometimes called foot-and-mouth disease, is a highly contagious viral infection that affects cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. It gets its name from the painful lesions that may form on infected animals' hooves and mouths.

Hoof-and-mouth disease is not dangerous to humans. However, infected animals are usually culled, and strict quarantine measures are put in place for affected properties because the disease is one of the most contagious infections that affects livestock. It can spread through direct contact with infected animals or by contact with infected feed, clothing, vehicles or other materials. It can also be transmitted through the air. Vaccines do exist, but they are not effective at controlling the disease as of 2015, so management and rapid detection are the main methods of prevention.

Hoof-and-mouth disease has slightly different symptoms for each species. Cattle are the most likely to get the distinctive lesions on their lips, tongues and legs. Lameness, fever and lip smacking are also common symptoms. Lactating animals show decreased milk production, which is particularly noticeable in dairy cows.

Sheep and pigs tend not to get the blisters. Instead, their major symptoms are often lameness and an unwillingness to stand or move. They may also be reluctant to eat, and pregnant sheep often abort the pregnancy or have lambs who die shortly after birth.