Bacterial Hoof Disease in
Southwest Washington Elk
Over the past decade, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has received a growing number of reports of elk hobbled by missing or misshapen hooves in southwest Washington. This is a major concern for hunters, area residents and state wildlife managers alike. Analysis of tissue from deformed hooves indicates the condition is likely caused by a bacterial disease similar to one found in livestock.
Since 2008, the disease has spread from the Cowlitz River Basin to Pacific, Grays Harbor, Lewis, Clark and Wahkiakum counties, affecting the St. Helens and Willapa Hills elk herds. Scientists believe the bacteria are transmitted through the wet soil of lowland areas.
Update: Volunteers for hoof disease study Due to the high level of interest, WDFW has now filled all available volunteer positions for its upcoming survey to determine the proportion of elk in southwest Washington showing signs of hoof disease. The public can still help the department monitor the disease by reporting limping elk on this website.
Test results of diseased hooves sent to five diagnostic laboratories since 2013 point to infectious treponeme bacteria, which have been linked to digital dermatitis in domestic sheep and cattle. A 16-member technical panel of veterinarians and researchers, formed by WDFW to review test results from affected elk, has supported those findings.
First reported in Italy in 1974, digital dermatitis now occurs in livestock throughout the United States and other countries, but has never before been documented in elk or other wildlife. There is no evidence that the bacteria are harmful to humans, and tests have shown that the disease does not affect animals' meat or organs. However, there is no vaccine for the disease and no proven options for treating it in the field.
WDFW is continuing to work with scientists here and abroad to learn more about the disease, and is planning broad-based field studies to determine its prevalence and geographical spread starting in the summer of 2014.