Sporadic reports of lame elk or elk with overgrown or missing hooves have been received in southwest Washington since the mid 1990’s. Reports of this “hoof disease” have been increasing and hunters have regularly seen and sometimes harvested an elk with this condition. At times, many individuals in a group are reported limping and showing signs of hoof disease, which has been noted in both males and females and old as well as very young animals.
There are dozens of hoof diseases known to occur in domestic livestock. Many hoof diseases are specific to the species (sheep, cattle, goats, etc.). They all have different causes (infectious, metabolic, toxic, nutritional, physical), and different modes of transmission, prevention, treatment, prognoses, etc.
WDFW is working with specialists, both here and abroad, to gain a better understanding of what is causing hoof disease in southwest Washington elk. The condition we are seeing in elk doesn’t appear to be an exact match with any of the known hoof diseases in domestic or wild animals; however, it does have similarities with several of the diseases known in either wildlife or livestock. Based on interviews conducted with local veterinarians, the condition does not seem to be affecting domestic livestock in the area.
Given this complexity, there is more research needed to help us better understand and manage this problem. We are coordinating with other agencies and universities to prioritize the work needed given the limited funds. Even if we are able to determine what is causing this hoof disease, it will be very challenging to address as there are likely very few, if any, treatment options for wild elk. However, understanding the cause of elk hoof disease in southwestern Washington is an important step in understanding and managing its impacts.
Please refer to the links on this page to learn about what WDFW has done to date as well as some background information on hoof disease.
Back ground information information (Merck Veterinary Manual):