Sporadic reports of lame elk or elk with overgrown or missing hooves have been received in southwest Washington since the mid-1990s. Reports of this "hoof disease" have been increasing, and hunters have regularly seen and sometimes harvested elk with this condition. At times, observers have reported many individuals in a group limping and showing signs of hoof disease, which has been noted in males and females and old and very young animals.
Dozens of hoof diseases occur in domestic livestock. They have many different causes (infectious, metabolic, toxic, nutritional, physical) and varied modes of transmission, prevention and treatment.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is working with specialists, here and abroad, to better understand what is causing hoof disease in southwest Washington elk. So far, we have ruled out several potential causes and have narrowed the list of possibilities. Preliminary evidence suggests the involvement of an infectious bacterium, although additional results from animals collected in January 2014 will not be available for several months.
Given this complexity, more research is needed to help us better understand and manage this problem. We are coordinating with other agencies and universities to prioritize the work needed. Even if we are able to determine what is causing this hoof disease, it will be very challenging to address it as there are likely very few, if any, treatment options for wild elk. However, understanding the cause of the disease is an important step toward understanding and managing its impacts.
The department has established a technical advisory group composed of veterinarians and researchers to discuss research and management questions and options, and a public working group to share information and communicate with the public.
Back ground information information (Merck Veterinary Manual):