Foot-and-mouth disease: recognise and report the signs

Page last updated: Tuesday, 15 January 2019 - 9:32am

Western Australia's access to livestock and livestock product export markets, worth about $2 billion annually, relies on Australia being free of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).

If foot-and-mouth disease did occur in Australia, everyone who works with livestock could help to reduce the economic and social impacts of an outbreak by being vigilant for the signs of the disease and reporting it immediately to a veterinarian. The faster an outbreak is detected, the sooner it can be stopped.

What is foot-and-mouth disease?

Foot-and-mouth disease is a highly infectious viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals including sheep, cattle, pigs, goats, buffalo, camels, alpaca, llama and deer. It does not affect non-cloven hoofed animals such as horses, dogs, cats or birds. It is not the same as hand, foot and mouth disease in people.

Although many affected animals may survive foot-and-mouth disease, they take a long time to recover and often do not regain their full productivity. Surviving animals may also become carriers of the virus.

Foot-and-mouth disease is not present in Australia, which increases our access to livestock and livestock product export markets.

What are the signs of foot-and-mouth disease in animals?

Signs of foot-and-mouth disease vary depending on the species infected and the strain of the virus.

Blisters form in the mouth, nostrils, on teats, and on the skin between and above the hoofs of cloven-footed animals. Foot-and-mouth disease reduces productivity and may kill young animals. Note that in sheep the signs are often mild and difficult to see and lameness may be the only visible sign.

Signs include:

  • blisters (vesicles) in the mouth, nostrils, teats or on the feet. These blisters are often not obvious until they have ruptured. Blisters in sheep are usually small and difficult to see
  • slobbering/drooling
  • lameness, reluctance to move
  • severe depression
  • lack of appetite
  • sudden death in young animals
  • a large drop in milk yield in dairy animals
  • abortion in pigs.

Animals usually show signs of foot-and-mouth disease within 3–5 days of infection, but signs can take up to 14 days to appear. Infected animals spread the virus before they show signs of the disease.

Why should I report foot-and-mouth disease signs?

The sooner foot-and-mouth disease is recognised and reported, the sooner its spread can be stopped.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) estimates that a large, multi-state outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease would cost the Australian economy up to $52 billion over 10 years.

Minimising the spread of the disease through early detection and reporting will reduce the devastating economic and social costs of an outbreak to livestock producers, the livestock and regional industries and the national economy.

How do I report foot-and-mouth disease signs?

If you see any of the signs of foot-and-mouth disease in cloven-hooved animals, call your vet, your Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) vet, or the Emergency Animal Disease hotline on 1800 675 888.

How would foot-and-mouth disease enter Australia?

The most likely way that foot-and-mouth disease could enter Australia is by the illegal importation of meat and dairy products, which can carry foot-and-mouth disease virus.

Pigs are highly susceptible to foot-and-mouth disease and can become infected if they eat products carrying the virus. Once infected, pigs produce large quantities of virus, which can spread to other livestock.

To prevent foot-and-mouth disease and other serious diseases, it is illegal to feed pigs anything that:

  • contains meat, meat products, or any other products from mammals
  • has had contact with meat, meat products or any other products from mammals.

See the prohibited pig feed page for more information on what and what not to feed pigs.

Foot-and-mouth disease could also enter Australia by people from infected countries returning with the virus on their clothing, footwear or equipment and then having contact with animals.

On your return from overseas travel, always declare food products and whether you have been in a country where foot-and-mouth disease is present.

How does foot-and-mouth disease spread?

Foot-and-mouth disease is highly contagious. The virus is present in large amounts in the blisters, saliva, urine, manure, milk and breath of infected animals.

The virus spreads between animals by:

  • direct contact with an infected animal
  • air-borne particles from infected animals
  • movement of infected animals
  • movement of contaminated animal products (such as wool or manure), vehicles, equipment and people.

The virus can survive in the environment for several weeks. Low humidity, high temperatures and acidic soils help to inactivate the virus. Virus particles can remain in people’s noses for up to 24 hours.

How can I reduce the risk of foot-and-mouth disease occurring on my property?

To reduce the risk of foot-and-mouth disease occurring in your animals:

  • do not feed pigs anything that contains or has had contact with meat, meat products or other products from mammals
  • ensure visitors who have arrived from infected countries wear clean clothes and disinfected shoes.

Other standard biosecurity practices that will help to prevent the introduction of many other diseases as well as foot-and-mouth disease include:

  • isolate new animals for 7–10 days
  • keep fences secure to ensure stray animals do not enter
  • have an allocated area away from livestock where contractors/farm visitors park
  • after visiting another farm, clean and disinfect vehicles and footwear and preferably change outer clothes before having contact with your own animals.

Protect your industry by reporting signs of disease early. If you see any signs of foot-and-mouth disease:

  • isolate the affected animal(s)
  • do not move any livestock off your property
  • call your private vet, DPIRD vet, or the Emergency Animal Disease hotline on 1800 675 888.

DPIRD provides useful biosecurity checklists for livestock producers. See the webpages: Farm biosecurity checklist for sheep producers, Keep pigs healthy - follow the biosecurity checklist.

For more information about the signs of foot-and-mouth disease or foot-and-mouth disease prevention, contact your local DPIRD vet

Contact information

Sue Skirrow
+61 (0)8 9892 8490