Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife


What causes Elk Hoof Disease?

Treponeme-associated hoof disease (TAHD) of elk is considered to be a form of digital dermatitis, which is an infectious bacterial hoof disease affecting cattle, sheep and goats. Digital dermatitis is a “polymicrobial” disease, meaning that more than one species of bacteria is involved in its development. While treponeme bacteria are the ones that cause the most damage to the hoof tissue, it is believed that other bacteria are also important in the disease process, particularly in initiating it. Which bacteria these are is an area of active research, and in livestock as well as elk may include Porphyromonas, Fusobacterium, Clostridium, Peptoniphilus, and Mycoplasma, among others. To date, the bacterial profile of TAHD lesions in elk appears to be similar to that of digital dermatitis lesions in sheep and cattle.

There is no scientific evidence that herbicides, such as those used by timber companies, cause this disease, and no link has been made between herbicides and hoof disease in any species that we are aware of. The University of Alberta and the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement are examining characteristics of the habitat used by elk, including industrial timberlands in southwest Washington, which may add to our knowledge.

For more information, see the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health/hoof_disease/

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Last Updated
18th of October, 2016