Scientists track elk hoof rot cause, discuss cure

The disease generically called hoof rot that is affecting elk in southwestern Washington either causes an elk’s hoof to grow abnormally or decay away. (Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife)
The disease generically called hoof rot that is affecting elk in southwestern Washington either causes an elk’s hoof to grow abnormally or decay away. (Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife)

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN 6) — Two dozen scientists met on Tuesday in Vancouver to discuss the hoof rot disease affecting the elk population in the Northwest.

One of the goals of the meeting was to come to an agreement about the cause of the illness and create a strategy to deal with it.

Scientists said they think they’ve tracked the hoof rot to a particular bacteria though critics have questioned their findings.

The bacteria is called treponema and is believed to be the cause of hoof rot, which causes elk to grow abnormally long hooves called slipper toe or causes the entire hoof to fall off.

Examples of elk hoof rot and lesions from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website, Feb. 14, 2014
Examples of elk hoof rot and lesions from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website, Feb. 14, 2014

Scientists described treponema as spiral shaped and able to bore deep into tissue, hiding from an animal’s immune system.

Most of the existing research on hoof rot, which is also referred to as digital dermatitis, involves dairy cows.

“It’s very coincidental that the rise in digital dermatitis in dairy herds in the United States and this rise in hoof disease is just a few years lagging behind,” said Dr. Jennifer Wilson-Welder with the US Department of Agriculture.

Many scientists said they are frustrated because treating hoof rot in dairy cows is very difficult, and they have no idea how to tackle the problem in wild herds of elk.

The meeting in Vancouver is expected to wrap sometime Tuesday evening.

KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.

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