Clinical signs of Foot and Mouth Disease

By Defra, UK - How to detect signs of Foot and Mouth in cattle, pigs and sheep.
calendar icon 8 August 2007
clock icon 5 minute read

Signs of Foot and Mouth in Cattle

  • Slobbering and smacking lips.
  • Shivering
  • Tender and sore feet
  • Reduced milk yield
  • Sores and blisters on feet
  • Raised temperature

Pictures of infected cattle from Defra

Click on the images for a larger version.

Photo of tongue of steer with one day old ruptured vesicle Plate 1 - Tongue of steer with 1-day-old vesicle which ruptured when the tongue was drawn from the mouth.
Photo of steers upper gum and tongue with ruptured vesicles Plate 2 - Steer with 2-day-old ruptured vesicle along upper gum and several 1-day-old unruptured vesicles on the tongue.
Photo of two day old ruptured vesicles on the tongue of steer Plate 3 - Two-day-old ruptured vesicles on the tongue, lower gum and lower lip of a steer. Note sharp edges to ulcerated areas.
Photo of a further example of a ruptured lesion on the tongue of a steer Plate 4 - A further example of 2-day-old lesions in the mouth of a steer. Again note sharp margins of lesions and red raw appearance of exposed dermis.
Photo of steers tongue with three day old lesions Plate 5 - Tongue of steer with 3-day-old lesions. Sero-fibrinous exudation into the lesions has resulted in a loss of earlier red raw appearance and also sharpness of margination. Early granulation evident.
Photo of steers tongue with four day old lesions Plate 6 - Same animal as in plate 5 with 4-day-old lesions. Note progressive loss of lesion margination and extensive fibrin infilling.
Photo of steers tongue with ten day old lesion Plate 7 - Steer’s tongue with a 10-day-old lesion characterised by loss of papillae, indentation at the site of the lesion and fibrous tissue proliferation.
Photo of steers foot with two day old unruptured inter digital vesicle Plate 8 - Foot of a steer with a 2-day-old unruptured vesicle in the inter-digital space.
Photo of steers foot with two day old unruptured inter digital vesicle Plate 9 - A different steer also with a 2-day-old inter-digital vesicle.
Photo of steers heel bulbs with unruptured two day old vesicles Plate 10 - The heel bulbs of a steer’s foot with unruptured 2-day-old vesicles.
Photo of steers foot with ruptured vesicle Plate 11 - The same foot as in Plate 10, 1 day later. The epithelium overlying the vesicle is friable and easily stripped off.
Photo of steers foot with five day old lesion Plate 12 - A 5-day-old lesion on a steer’s foot. Signs of early granulation are evident.
Photo of a steers foot with seven day old lesion Plate 13 - A 7-day-old lesion on a steer’s foot. Healing is progressing underneath the necrotic epithelium.
Photo of another example of a seven day old foot lesion Plate 14- Another example of a 7-day-old inter-digital foot lesion on a steer.
Photo of an eleven day old lesion on the heel bulb of a steer Plate 15 - An 11-day-old foot lesion on the heel bulb of a steer. Note healing and under-running of horn tissue.
Photo of one day old vesicles on a teat of a cow. Plate 16- One-day-old vesicles on the teat of a cow. Rupturing has not taken place but several vesicles have coalesced.

All of the above images are Crown Copyright. Information on Crown Copyright and the use of this material is available on Defra website.

The images on this page are taken from the 'Foot and Mouth Disease Ageing of Lesions(1.3 MB - Please note this is a large file) publication which was revised in January 2005.

Signs of Foot and Mouth in Pigs

  • Sudden lameness
  • Prefers to lie down
  • When made to move squeals loudly and hobbles painfully
  • Blisters form on the upper edge of the hoof, where the skin and horn meet, and on the heels and in the cleft
  • May extend right round the top of the hoof with the result that the horn becomes separated
  • Blisters may develop on the snout or on the tongue
It is important to remember that Swine Vesicular Disease has identical symptoms to foot-and-mouth disease. Therefore anyone who sees blisters in pigs must report the sighting as suspected foot-and-mouth disease until laboratory tests prove otherwise.

See ThePigSite Foot and Mouth Section for more information relating to pigs

Signs of Foot and Mouth in Sheep

  • Sudden, severe lameness
  • Lies down frequently and is very unwilling to rise
  • When made to rise stands in a half-crouching position, with hind legs brought well forward, reluctant to move
  • Blisters may be found on the hoof where the horn joins the skin which may extend all round the coronet and in the cleft of the foot. When they burst the horn is separated from the tissues underneath, and hair round the hoof may appear damp the dental pad and sometimes the tongue

    Detecting the disease in sheep

    As a keeper of sheep you are often the first person who could be suspicious that your animals are affected and so we are providing this further information to assist you during your inspections. The disease can be difficult to recognise in sheep as sometimes as little as 5% of animals in infected flocks show any signs. Look for the following signs:
    • Sudden death in lambs. In several recent confirmed outbreaks the most obvious sign was apparently healthy lambs dropping dead.
    • Abortions
    • Lameness (this may only last for a short time)
    • Listless and off their food

    Inspection of sheep

    If you are noticing any of the above signs in your flock then you must inspect individual sheep. Make sure you have plenty of light either daylight or a good torch. For each sheep you must examine both mouth and feet. Do not ask another stock keeper to assist you. If you have any concerns contact your local Animal Health Divisional Office.


    The typical fluid filled blisters are difficult to see as they usually quickly burst. This will leave erosions or ulcers particularly on the dental pad of the upper jaw where the lower front teeth touch the pad. They may also be seen on the gums, lips and tongue and may be very small.


    Foot lesions are less common but as the disease progresses they may become more obvious. Transient lameness will be a sign but you must look carefully for blisters, particularly between the claws, on the heel bulbs and the coronary band. Turn back the hair over the coronary band to check for horn separation. If the blisters have burst then hair may be damp and bacterial infection may be present, as could foot rot. Affected feet may feel hot and painful.

    Defra 2007 - Crown Copyright
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