Welcome to NADIS. Are you a...

Vet SQP Farmer/Animal Keeper Industry Professional Researcher Not In Animal Health Industry

You will only be asked this once.

Download this page as a PDF

Download Now

Editorial Information


Published 2011

Reviewed byPhil Scott DVM&S, DipECBHM, CertCHP, DSHP, FRCVS 2017

Foot and Mouth Disease

Foot and mouth  disease is endemic  throughout many parts of the world but much of Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand are free of disease.

A very severe outbreak of FMD occurred in the UK during 2001 costing in excess of £3 billion. The FMD 2001 outbreak in the UK was caused by the Pan Asia strain first isolated in India in 1990.

In 2007 FMD virus escaped from a vaccine facility at Pirbright, England causing disease on adjacent farms. Movement  restrictions  had  a severe economic impact on the farming industry.


FMD is extremely contagious and most commonly spread  by  movement  of  infected  cattle,  sheep, goats, and pigs but indirect spread via farm staff and vehicles was considered important in many cases during 2001.

Wind-borne spread of the virus over 250 km was believed to be cause of infection when pigs in Brittany infected cattle on the Isle of Wight.

Clinical presentation

The incubation period is 2-10 days.  Initially, one or two cattle present with fever (>40.0°C), depression, loss of appetite, marked drop in milk yield and salivation.  When housed or closely confined, other cattle in the group show clinical signs over the next 24-48 hours and such spread is dramatic.


1 foot mouth disease fmd isolated fever depression

Initially one or two cattle become isolated and present with fever (over 40.0°C) and depression.

2 foot mouth disease fmd early signs salivation

Early signs of FMD include salivation.

3 foot mouth disease fmd salivation vesicles

There is marked salivation associated with vesicles in the mouth with rapid spread of infection to other cattle in direct contact.

4 foot mouth disease fmd vesicles tongue ulceration

Ruptured vesicles (fluid-filled blisters) on the tongue  revealing reddened and painful ulceration with shreds of mucosa at the periphery.

Vesicles (fluid filled blisters) on the tongue, dental pad and hard palate quickly rupture leaving shallow ulceration with shreds of mucosa at the periphery.  The underlying tissues are reddened and painful.

5 foot mouth disease fmd vesicle tongue

Ruptured vesicle on the tongue - several days' duration.

Vesicles may be present on the teats and at the coronary band. The latter can become secondarily infected, causing lameness.

6 foot mouth disease fmd vesicles teat

Ruptured vesicles on the teat - FMD has been probably been present for more than 3-5 days.

7 foot mouth disease fmd vesicle coronary band lesion lameness

Ruptured vesicle at the coronary band.   This lesion would have caused severe lameness.

There are no ocular or nasal discharges.   Cattle under intensive management conditions with appropriate supervision would be detected at this stage, and in many countries compulsory slaughter would ensue. During the acute phase of disease, there is marked weight loss and milk yield reduction. Foot lesions often become secondarily infected and animals are very lame and often may be reluctant to rise.

Where cattle are not slaughtered at an early stage, the ulcers start to heal by around day 10 after infection but recovery takes several more weeks, during which time the animal has lost a great deal of condition.  FMD does not kill cattle; it is the devastating effects on production and weight loss that is so important.  Trade restrictions also greatly influence political decisions about control policy.

Differential diagnoses

For disease in groups of cattle your veterinary surgeon will also consider:

  • Bluetongue
  • Schmallenberg virus
  • Caustic substances

Individual cattle:

  • Mucosal disease
  • Malignant catarrhal fever
  • Bluetongue
  • Ingestion/contact with caustic substance


8 malignant catarral fever mcf

Malignant catarrhal fever usually affects only one animal in the group.  There are severe ocular signs and crusting of the muzzle.


Where disease is suspected, you must inform the Police and Divisional Veterinary Manager of Animal Health (formerly State Veterinary Service).  Do not leave the premises  and  stop  all  movement  of people, vehicles and animals onto and off the premises.

  • Inform the Police and Divisional Veterinary Manager of Animal Health
  • Do not leave the premises
  • Stop all movement of people, vehicles and animals onto and off the premises.

Overlying mucosal flaps >2 square cm from a ruptured vesicle are despatched in appropriate transport media to a designated laboratory.


9 foot mouth disease fmd lesions palate

Severe, advanced lesions on the hard palate of a sheep.

10 foot mouth disease fmd ulcers palate

Ulcers on the hard palate beginning to heal.

11 foot mouth disease fmd lameness

FMD may present as sudden and severe lameness in sheep.

12 footrot lesions lameness

Early footrot lesions (this case) causing severe lameness must be differentiated from FMD.

13 contagious ovine digital dermatitis codd

Sloughing of the hoof capsule caused by contagious ovine digital dermatitis (CODD).


In the UK, cattle with suspected FMD have been slaughtered immediately.  In other countries where there is no slaughter policy, antibiotic therapy may control secondary bacterial infection of ulcers but recovery takes several weeks to months.

Management Prevention Control measures

Control measures are determined nationally. Slaughter of all cloven-hooved animals on the farm with full compensation operated in the UK during the 2001 FMD epidemic. The 3 km contiguous cull proved very contentious  especially in Scotland during this outbreak.

14 foot mouth disease fmd cull

Slaughter of ewes and young lambs in 2001 as part of the contiguous cull.  It is unlikely that such measures would be undertaken again.

The 2007 outbreak of FMD was traced to poor biosecurity measures at Pirbright.  Slaughter of all cloven-hoofed animals on the affected farms with full compensation again operated but there was no contiguous cull.   Ring vaccination was considered but not used, presumably due to the known origin of the source.


15 foot mouth disease fmd bio security

Bio-security measures which were being operated by farmers and allied industries during FMD outbreaks were quickly abandoned after the end of the epidemic.

It is not clear what control policy will operate should another outbreak of FMD occur in the UK.

Biosecurity measures operated by farmers and allied industries during FMD outbreaks were quickly abandoned after the end of the epidemic and there are few disease control precautions on many farms.

Disease Alert Subscription

If you would like to be notified of disease alerts please fill in your e-mail address and/or your mobile number below:

Please indicate which species are of interest:

Related Cattle Health Information
Proactive Disease Control the Focus of Industry Initiative
With increasing pressure from regulation....
Flexible Live IBR Vaccination Now Available On-farm
As the first live vaccine to offer a longer duration of immunity...
sponsor logoImproving Cattle Health