Foot abscess in sheep

Foot abscess causes severe lameness in one or more feet, and can cause a marked loss of condition and production because affected animals cannot graze properly.

Rams and ewes may be unable to mate. Ewes affected in late pregnancy may develop pregnancy toxaemia and die. Ewes may not be able to feed their lambs with resultant loss of lambs.

Causes and contributing factors

Foot abscess is caused by bacteria that live in the environment and can occur on any property.

Injury to the foot or other factors, such as prolonged wetting of the feet, can allow the bacteria to enter the foot. It is more common in fat, heavy sheep, particularly twin bearing ewes.

Clinical signs

It occurs as 2 forms: heel abscess and toe abscess.

The signs of heel abscess are lameness, pain, swelling and heat, usually just above the hoof. Often one hind foot is affected. The signs of toe abscess are acute lameness, which is more common in the front feet.


Move sheep to drier paddocks and avoid muddy and wet areas. Pare or trim the feet to drain the abscess and clean the infected area and apply an antibacterial treatment.
Treat affected animals early with long-acting and broad-spectrum antibiotics. Contact your veterinary surgeon for treatment.

To learn more, visit Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment website.


Ensure the sheep's feet are kept in good condition by regular inspection and paring. Follow management practices to prevent sheep, particularly pregnant ewes from becoming over-fat. Avoid putting sheep, particularly pregnant ewes, into wet and muddy conditions, including wet and muddy yards and laneways.

In wet seasons, avoid putting pregnant ewes onto cereal crops, as ploughed conditions are ideal for developing dermatitis of the feet and subsequent heel abscess. Foot baths can help. Seek further advice from your veterinarian.

Note: Thanks to Industry & Investment NSW for the use of information from the fact sheet 'Foot abscess in sheep' (Allan 2010).