Be on the lookout for elk with hoof deformities while outdoors in northwest Oregon this fall.

Photo courtesy of Mike Jackson

SALEM — ODFW is asking hunters and others in northwest Oregon to be on the lookout for limping elk that may have hoof disease.

Report any sightings to the ODFW’s elk hoof disease online reporting page at www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/health_program/elk_hoof_disease/. You can also call ODFW’s Wildlife Health Lab at 866-968-2600 or email them at Wildlife.Health@state.or.us.

Elk hoof disease is a bacterial infection that causes severe lameness in elk. Elk with the disease have deformed and overgrown or broken sloughed hooves and other hoof abnormalities related to the infection.

ODFW’s veterinary staff requests that hunters who harvest elk with infected or overgrown hooves save the damaged hooves and contact the ODFW Wildlife Health Laboratory for collection of the hooves.

Hoof disease does not affect the meat of elk harvested by hunters and poses no risk to human health. However, lame elk may be in poorer body condition and appear thin.

The elk hoof disease online reporting page was launched during last year’s hunting season and received a number of observations submitted by the public that aided ODFW biologists and veterinarians tracking this emerging disease. Samples from 11 Oregon elk have been collected since last year. Five had hoof deformities and tested positive for the Treponema bacteria associated with the hoof disease described in neighboring Washington elk herds. Most observations have been in northwest Oregon; however, ODFW is surveying the entire state for this disease.

“Observations reported by the public are critical in mapping where the disease currently exists,” said Greg Reed, ODFW wildlife health lab biologist. “There is quite a bit to learn about this new disease in elk in Oregon and every new observation helps.”

“We appreciate hunters and those who spend time in the outdoors keeping a lookout for signs of this disease,” added Julia Burco, ODFW district wildlife veterinarian. “This information will help us determine the effect on Oregon’s elk and do what we can to limit its spread.”

More about elk hoof disease

Elk hoof disease first appeared in southwest Washington elk herds between 2002-2005 and has become increasingly widespread over the past decade. In some of southwest Washington’s elk herds, 20-90 percent of the animals are showing lameness. The disease does not appear to be as widespread in Oregon to date.

ODFW wildlife biologists and veterinarians are working to understand the cause of the emergence of elk hoof disease in Oregon. Hoof diseases in ungulates are complicated because there are many reasons an animal could develop abnormalities of the hoof, including bacteria, viruses, parasites, nutritional imbalances, or injury. Scientists have identified a specific bacterium from the genus Treponema as the culprit contributing to hoof disease in southwestern Washington’s elk.

Historically, ODFW has seen sporadic cases of hoof disease, but not until recently have veterinarians confirmed the presence of the multiple species of bacteria, including Treponema, that are believed to cause hoof disease in elk. 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.

ODFW wildlife veterinarians and biologists are part of the working group investigating the disease in Washington. Because of the known interchange between Oregon and Washington elk across the Columbia River, the disease was anticipated by ODFW staff.