Guidance

Foot and mouth disease: how to spot and report it

How to spot foot and mouth disease, what to do if you suspect it and measures to prevent its spread.

Foot and mouth disease affects cloven-hoofed animals including:

  • cattle
  • sheep
  • pigs

It doesn’t affect humans.

The last outbreak in Great Britain was in 2007.

Foot and mouth disease is a notifiable disease. That means if you suspect it you must tell your nearest Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) office immediately. Failure to do so is an offence.

How to spot foot and mouth disease

In cattle

Cattle with foot and mouth disease may develop sores and blisters:

  • on the feet
  • in the mouth
  • on the tongue

Other clinical signs include:

  • fever
  • shivering
  • lameness
  • slobbering and smacking lips
  • cows produce less milk

In sheep

Sheep rarely develop mouth blisters as a result of foot and mouth disease: lameness is the main sign of the disease.

Signs of foot and mouth disease among sheep include:

  • severe lameness, which may develop suddenly and spread quickly among the flock
  • tendency to lie down more than usual
  • unwillingness to move when made to stand
  • high numbers of stillbirths, abortions and lambs dying soon after birth
  • tiredness in young lambs
  • ewes unwilling to allow lambs to suckle

Sheep rarely develop blisters in the mouth as a result of foot and mouth disease. Blisters on the hoof are more common. In either location the blisters tend to be very small and hard to spot.

In pigs

Pigs rarely develop mouth blisters as a result of foot and mouth disease: lameness is the main sign of the disease.

Signs of foot and mouth disease in pigs include:

  • sudden lameness, which may spread quickly among the herd
  • loudly squealing from pain
  • tendency to lie down and unwillingness to move
  • reluctance to feed

Pigs don’t usually develop blisters as a result of foot and mouth disease. But sometimes blisters do appear on the:

  • upper edge of the hoof where the skin and horn meet
  • snout
  • tongue

The clinical signs are indistinguishable from swine vesicular disease. Therefore if you suspect swine vesicular disease you must report your suspicions and treat the condition as suspected foot and mouth disease until laboratory tests prove otherwise.

Other animals

Other cloven-hoofed animals including goats and deer can also be infected and introduce the disease to farm animals.

How foot and mouth disease is spread

Foot and mouth disease is highly infectious.

Animals can catch the virus through direct contact with an infected animal.

The disease can also pass indirectly through:

  • equipment
  • vehicles
  • people
  • clothes
  • mud
  • bedding
  • any other item that has been in contact with infected animals

The virus is present in the fluid of the blisters that animals develop. It can also be found in their saliva, urine, dung, milk and exhaled air before signs of the disease appear.

Preventing and controlling foot and mouth disease

You can help prevent the disease by:

  • being familiar with the clinical signs of foot and mouth disease so you can notify APHA immediately if you suspect it
  • practising strict biosecurity on your premises.

If you report suspicion of foot and mouth disease APHA vets will investigate.

If foot and mouth disease is confirmed the outbreak will be controlled in line with the contingency plan for exotic notifiable diseases. and the foot and mouth disease control strategy for Great Britain.

Further information on prevention and control

Controls to prevent disease

What happens when a notifiable disease is suspected or confirmed

Legislation relating to foot and mouth disease

Foot and mouth is covered by the Foot and Mouth Disease (England) Order 2006 and the Foot and Mouth Disease (Control of Vaccination) (England) Regulations 2006.