Hoof Rot

The four deformed hooves of one elk with hoof disease are shown in this lab photo by researchers studying the disease plaguing elk in southwestern Washington.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced this week that test results from samples taken from a juvenile elk in the Yakima herd confirmed the presence of elk hoof disease, known scientifically as treponeme-associated hoof disease (TAHD). 

This is the first confirmed case of the disease in the Yakima herd.

"For many years, we've been surveying for hoof disease in the Yakima area, but we have never had a case of a limping or lame elk associated with hoof disease," said Kyle Garrison, WDFW ungulate specialist. "The case, confirmed by Washington State University, was an early grade lesion and probably wouldn't have affected the animal's gait initially."

The disease can cause hoof deformities leading to hooves sloughing off and even death. It is most commonly found in elk populations in Southwest Washington. 

The infected elk was discovered as WDFW and WSU College of Veterinary Medicine staff captured elk from central Washington feeding sites to support WSU's elk hoof disease research facility. 

First documented in the early 2000s, hoof disease has since been found in 17 Washington counties, primarily west of the Cascades, affecting eight of Washington's 10 elk herds. California, Idaho, and Oregon have also reported cases of the disease. 

In 2019, WDFW confirmed the disease in Walla Walla County the eastern-most detection in Washington state. 

Throughout western Washington, about 12 percent of successful hunters reported abnormal hooves on their harvest, according to a news release from WDFW. In eastern Washington, less than 1 percent of hunters report hoof abnormalities.

"We're going to increase our surveillance, continue our cooperation with WSU's College of Veterinary Medicine, and we're also asking eastern Washington hunters and recreationists to keep an eye out for limping elk or elk with hoof deformities," said Garrison. 

There is currently no vaccine to prevent TAHD, nor are there any proven options for treating it in the field. There is no evidence that the disease affects humans.

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