The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) has confirmed 16 cases of hoof disease in Oregon elk since the first case was confirmed in early 2014. Veterinary staff are reminding hunters throughout Oregon to be on the lookout for limping elk that may have this debilitating disease.
Officials ask the public to report any sightings to the ODFW’s elk hoof disease online reporting page www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/health_program/elk_hoof_disease/ or contact ODFW’s Wildlife Health Lab (1-866-968-2600 / Wildlife.Health@state.or.us).
Experts said elk hoof disease is a bacterial infection causing severe lameness in elk. Elk with the disease have deformed and overgrown or broken sloughed hooves and other hoof abnormalities related to the infection (see photos at www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/health_program/docs/ElkHoofDiseaseFactSheetFinal.pdf).
ODFW’s veterinary staff requests hunters who harvest an elk with infected or overgrown hooves save all hooves and contact the ODFW Wildlife Health Laboratory (1-866-968-2600 / Wildlife.Health@state.or.us) to arrange for collection.
Hoof disease does not affect elk meat harvested by hunters and poses no risk to human health. Lame elk may be in poorer body condition and appear thin, according to ODFW.
The online reporting page for elk hoof disease was launched fall of 2014 and is used to track observations of limping elk submitted by the public. Initial cases and reports were identified in counties bordering southwest Washington where the initial outbreak occurred. Over the past year ODFW has documented other sporadic cases in northeastern Oregon.
“Observations reported by the public are critical in mapping where the disease currently exists and how the distribution is changing,” said Julia Burco, ODFW district wildlife veterinarian. “There is still a lot to learn about this new disease in Oregon and every new observation helps.”
Officials added the that condition initially appeared in southwestern Washington elk herds between the late 1990s and early 2000s. A dramatic rise in reports of limping elk in 2007-2008 prompted an investigation into the underlying cause.
In 2014, the bacteria known as treponemes was identified as a consistent organism associated with the deformed, overgrown, broken or sloughed hooves seen in affected elk. In some of southwest Washington’s elk herds, 20-90 percent of the animals are showing lameness.
Because of the known interchange between Oregon and Washington elk across the Columbia River, the disease was anticipated by ODFW staff. However, the wide distribution of sporadic cases across Oregon are difficult to understand and are being investigated further.
Oregon’s big game hunting seasons are underway now through the end of the year. Oregon’s first general rifle elk season, Cascade elk, opens Saturday, Oct. 15.
More about elk hoof disease
Scientists have identified specific bacteria from the genus Treponema are the primary culprits contributing to hoof disease in southwestern Washington’s and now Oregon’s elk. Historically, ODFW has seen sporadic cases of hoof disease, but only recently have scientists confirmed the presence of the multiple species of bacteria, including Treponema, that are believed to cause treponeme-associated hoof disease (TAHD). Though antibiotics, foot baths, cleaning pens and other methods can help treat similar problems in livestock, there are no practical ways to treat free-ranging elk with hoof disease.
For more information visit: ODFWs Elk Hoof Disease Fact Sheet (www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/health_program/docs/ElkHoofDiseaseFactSheetFinal.pdf)
ODFW’s Wildlife Health Page: