Fact Sheet - Foot-and-Mouth Disease

What is foot-and-mouth disease?

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a severe, highly contagious viral disease of cattle, sheep and swine.

FMD also affects goats, deer, bison and other cloven-hoofed domestic and wild ruminants.

Is FMD a risk to human health?

Human cases are extremely rare, generally mild and most often associated with consuming infected milk or having direct contact with FMD blisters.

FMD is an animal disease and not related to a disease in humans caused by the Coxsackie virus called Hand, Foot and Mouth disease.

What are the clinical signs of FMD?

FMD is characterized by:

  • depression;
  • fever;
  • blister-like sores on the tongue and lips, in the mouth, on the teats and between the hooves;
  • foot lesions, accompanied by acute lameness and reluctance to move; and
  • loss of appetite or milk production.

Many affected animals recover, but the disease leaves them weakened and debilitated.

FMD can be confused with several other animal illnesses. These include:

  • vesicular stomatitis
  • swine vesicular disease
  • bovine viral diarrhea (mucosal disease)
  • infectious bovine rhinotracheitis

It can also be mistaken for contact dermatitis due to trauma or chemical contamination (toxic plants).

Where is FMD found?

The disease is currently present in many areas of the world. Canada, the U.S., North and Central America, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and several other countries are considered free of FMD.

FMD was last reported in Canada in 1952.

How is FMD transmitted and spread?

FMD is one of the most contagious animal diseases. An outbreak can spread by direct, indirect and airborne transmission.

Transmission by direct contact can occur when animals infected with the virus have direct contact with other susceptible animals. Sources of infection include nasal secretions, skin lesions, milk, urine, and faeces.

Indirect transmission occurs when susceptible animals;

  • have contact with people wearing clothes, footwear or equipment contaminated with the virus
  • are held in facilities or are transported in vehicles contaminated with the virus
  • are given feed or water contaminated with FMD virus
  • are exposed to materials such as hay, semen or biological products contaminated with FMD virus

Airborne transmission occurs when infected animals exhale large amounts the virus into the air. The virus can spread by air over long distances. Swine contribute more to airborne transmission because they excrete very large quantities of virus compared to other species.

If an outbreak of FMD occurred, the virus could spread rapidly throughout Canada, due to routine livestock movements. Unless detected early, eradicated immediately and extensive movement restrictions are implemented, the economic losses could be extensive. The potential role that wildlife such as deer, elk and bison, could play as a reservoir for the virus is largely unknown.

How can producers prevent the spread of FMD?

To prevent the spread of FMD and other diseases, biosecurity measures should be implemented on the farm.

All animals, feed, bedding, semen and biological products should be purchased from reputable suppliers. New animals should be held for a period of isolation prior to introducing them to the herd.

All workers and visitors must wear clean clothes and boots dedicated to use in the barns. Any person who has been in a country where FMD has been detected should not be allowed to enter the farm for 14 days after entering Canada. If access is absolutely required, this period may be reduced to a minimum of five days, following extensive personal disinfection. 

Vehicles and equipment must undergo proper cleaning and disinfection before entering and exiting the farm.

Producers should regularly monitor the health of their animals, and immediately report any suspicion of illness to a veterinarian.

How is FMD diagnosed?

The disease diagnosis is confirmed by laboratory testing. In Canada, confirmatory testing for FMD is done at the CFIA’s National Centre for Foreign Animal Diseases in Winnipeg.

How is FMD treated?

There is no treatment for this disease.

What is done to protect Canadian livestock from FMD?

FMD is a “reportable disease” under the Health of Animals Act. This means that all suspected cases must be immediately reported by law to the CFIA for investigation by inspectors.

The CFIA does not permit imports of susceptible animals and animal products from countries that are not recognized by Canada as being “free of FMD,” unless the products have been processed in a manner that destroys the virus.  

Travellers entering Canada from any country are required to declare all animals and animal products. They must also report if they have been on a farm or exposed to animals while in another country, or if they will be visiting a farm while in Canada.

How would the CFIA respond to an outbreak of FMD in Canada?

In the event of an FMD outbreak, the CFIA’s strategy would be to eradicate the disease and re-establish Canada’s disease-free status as quickly as possible.

In an effort to eradicate FMD, the CFIA would use its "stamping out" policy, which includes:

  • humane destruction of all infected and exposed animals
  • tracing to identify locations of potentially infected or exposed animals
  • surveillance to detect newly infected animals
  • quarantine and animal movement controls to prevent spread
  • possible use of focussed emergency FMD vaccine, as part of a quarantine and eradication program
  • decontamination of infected premises
  • zoning to define infected and disease-free areas

Owners whose animals are ordered destroyed may be eligible for compensation.

Additional information

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