Understand Sore Mouth (Orf) in Goats: Prevention and Treatment

preventing soremouth ORF in goats (1)

I have Boer goats, which means that my goats are among the breeds most likely to contract sore mouths. As a result, I take extra precautions with my goats, especially since we also raise 4H goats that could contaminate my herd with sore mouth if I wasn’t careful. 

What is Sore Mouth Disease (Orf)? Sore mouth is a highly infectious disease that causes sores, scabs, and lesions on the mouth, lips, nose, and udders. It is most common in sheep and goats but can be passed to humans and occasionally camelids and other animals. Sore mouth has many strains, and animals can repeatedly contract it.

Sore mouth is called by many names, including Orf, orf, contagious ecthyma, and contagious pustular dermatitis. In Australia, it is referred to as Scabby mouth. Orf is very contagious, and fortunately, there are steps you can take to help protect your herd. 

Preventing Sore Mouth (Orf) in Your Herd Through Good BioSecurity

One of the best steps you can take to protect your herd from Sore mouth and other diseases is to maintain a closed herd. A closed herd does not interact with other goats. When you purchase new goats, keep them isolated from the rest of your herd for 2-4 weeks to reduce the likelihood that Sore mouth will pass to your herd.

But, isolating new goats won’t guarantee that your herd won’t get Orf.

That’s because new goats can bring Orf in symptom-free and pass it to a clean herd. Orf is highly contagious. Nearly every animal exposed to it will contract the virus. Even microscopic abrasions from eating are enough for the virus to attack a goat.

Goats that have previously gotten it are usually immune for a year. However, during this time, they can transmit the disease to other goats. So, never buy a goat from an infected (or suspected to be infected) herd unless your herd is already exposed.

You should also eliminate thistles and thorn bushes to prevent mouth cuts. Regularly disinfect feed troughs, milking equipment, and husbandry buildings. Wash your hands and use sanitized equipment between animals. Isolate any goats you suspect of having Sore Mouth. 

Goats can get sore mouths from bedding, feed, or direct contact with infected animals. Feed and bedding become contaminated as scabs fall off and the virus infects the area. Sore mouth can live for months and sometimes years on infected surfaces. The virus usually dies in the pastures in colder areas but can survive in barns and other shelters. It may be possible to disinfect pastures through burning, bleaching, and removing topsoil from the area. 

And, it can be difficult to keep a closed herd if you have kids in 4H, show your goats, or breed with bucks from other herds. But, there are still steps you can take. 

Protecting Show Goats From Orf

Keep 4H kids (the goats) and other show goats separated from your herd. When you, or your kiddos, interact with show goats, make sure to disinfect shoes and wash hands before moving onto your regular herds. You can disinfect shoes by standing in a shallow dish with a small layer of bleach in the bottom.

During shows, open your show goat’s mouths instead of allowing the judge to do so. One common way Orf passes is from a judge touching an infected goat’s mouth and then an uninfected goat’s mouth.

Lastly, consider designating a specific area for show goats to be housed and grazed each year. Sore mouth is extremely contagious and can live in the ground in scab flakes for years.

  • Open goat’s mouths during shows instead of allowing judges to do this
  • Designate a separate area to keep show goats away from the rest of the herd
  • Disinfect shoes and hands when moving between herds

Understanding Sore Mouth in Goats

Sore mouth, or Orf, is a viral disease caused by the Parapoxvirus. It is most commonly found in sheep and goats. Orf causes herpes-like sores and scabs on the mouth. It can cause puss and sores on the nose, lips, and gums of the infected animal. This makes it painful and difficult to eat.

Goats with sore mouths may stop eating. Infected goats can also have scabs on other parts of their body. Sore mouth usually heals without scarring within a month. Orf is ubiquitous in the United States and around the world. Fortunately, it rarely causes death or has long-term effects for infected animals.

Sore mouth is extremely contagious. The USDA estimates that over 40% of all goat herds are Orf contagious. That means that running into herds that carry Orf is likely, although most herds will not show symptoms.

Once a herd is infected with Sore mouth, you should consider that herd permanently infected. Indeed, the infection is nearly impossible to get rid of. Sore mouth virus survives in the dirt, bedding, and on contaminated surfaces for years. There is no known period after which a contaminated area is considered clean from Orf. It survives in broken scabs for years at a time. Scabs can be microscopic and are very difficult to remove or isolate.

Symptoms of Sore mouth (Orf) in Goats and Sheep

Sore mouth has several external symptoms that make it easy to notice and diagnose. 3 other diseases have similar symptoms to Sore mouth. Simular diseases include Sheep and Goat Pox, Foot and Mouth Disease, and Bluetongue.  Of all the similar diseases, Sore mouth is the most common and contagious.

Symptoms usually appear as early as 2-3 days and last for about 4 weeks. Secondary infections can occur, which keeps sores for as long as 6 weeks. Staph and other infections can occur, which may make antibiotics necessary. Watch sores for other related issues such as screwworms or maggot infestations. 

The most common symptoms of Orf will be sores on the muzzle of your goat. You may see scabs, lesions, or open wounds. If you see sores, isolate the sick goat until a diagnosis is confirmed or denied.

  • Weight Loss and decrease in eating 
  • Thick scabby sores on lips and gums that look similar to chickenpox
  • Can produce lesions on udders resulting in mastitis or a refusal to let the kids nurse 
  • Temperature, especially in kids
  • Lesions can appear on the face, ears, scrotum, vulva, chest, and flank but are less common. 
  • Blisters that develop into scabs

The Risk Of Orf to Kids and Does: Kids are most susceptible to Sore Mouth complications. That’s because they are the most likely to die quickly from a decrease in eating. Kids can get Sore mouth from does and can pass Sore mouth to does. If a kid gets Orf, suckling from the doe’s teats will usually pass the virus to the mother.

Once a doe gets infected, she will usually refuse to let kids nurse from her because of the pain. You will need to observe kids to make sure they are getting adequate food. Kids will usually need to be bottle-fed or tube-fed to make sure they get enough nutrients.

Boer goats are more susceptible to sore mouth than other breeds of goats. But, all goats can get Sore mouth. Goats get Orf more severely than sheep. 

Orf in Goats (1)
Colorado State University

Sore Mouth (Orf) Vaccination for Goats

There is a Sore Mouth vaccination available for sheep and goats. It’s a live vaccination, which means introducing a weakened form of the virus to the animal. Because of that, immunosuppressed goats can get sore mouths from the vaccine. Nearly all goats that get the vaccine will get at least a mild version of the disease. 

Should I vaccinate my goats for Sore mouth? Goats that have no exposure to Orf should not get the Orf Vaccination. The risk is very high that a goat with an unknown health issue will get a severe version of the illness. In herds where Orf is present, vaccination can help to reduce the severity of the disease. It can also help to ensure that goats won’t have symptoms and scabby mouths during showtimes.

Even in exposed herds, many owners choose to let the virus run its course. It’s advisable to carefully consider whether or not a vaccination will be beneficial to your herd. Herds with kidlings or show goats will often choose to vaccinate. But, because adult goats have a minimal danger of extreme illness, other herds avoid vaccination.

The vaccine should be administered 2 months before shows in exposed goats to help reduce the severity and likelihood of contracting Sore mouth. Pregnant does can be vaccinated 2 months before kidding. 

How often does the Orf Vaccine need to be given? Once goats are vaccinated or exposed to Sore mouth, they should be vaccinated manually. The Vaccine doesn’t make goats or sheep immune from Sore mouth but will reduce its severity. However, the partial immunity that goats receive from the vaccination is only good for about a year. This is true with goats that have gotten it as well. Goats can continue to become infected, but subsequent infections are usually less severe.

What are the side effects of the Orf Vaccination? Goats given the Orf vaccination will contract the disease, although usually less severe than if contracted naturally. The vaccination is given on a hairless part of the goat, usually the armpits or under the tail. The area where the vaccination is given will develop a scab as the virus takes effect.

Treating Sore Mouth (Orf) in Goats

There are several treatments you can undertake if your goats get Sore Mouth. In mild cases, you may not need to do anything except apply an ointment to soften the scabs. Isolate and feed your infected goats with softer foods so that they maintain eating and don’t lose weight. 

Sore mouth is not usually deadly to goats, but it can become deadly if they completely stop eating. I’ve learned that goats that stop eating are at grave risk of death. Take immediate steps to get your goats eating again quickly. 

You can boost your herd’s immunity by giving them vitamin B shots. Change the needles to avoid transmitting the disease. Vitamin B won’t hurt your goats and will give an added boost. A low-dose antibiotic is usually available at feed stores, but I usually only use those in the evening until I get a stronger one from my vet. 

It’s important to note that Orf is viral and won’t respond to antibiotics, but secondary infections are prevalent. Antibiotics help to prevent secondary complications. Dairy goats with Soremouth should be milked last and the equipment sterilized between goats.

After an infected goat recovers from Soremouth, they are immune for a year. People can also get repeated infections of sore mouth, but they generally become less severe with each incident.  

Sore Mouth In People

Sore mouth is most commonly found in goats and sheep but can pass to other species.

Can people get Soremouth (Orf) from goats? Goats can transmit Orf to people. That usually happens when a sore or cut comes in contact with the virus. This can happen through milking, shearing, and petting. Transmission can occur from being bitten or licked by an infected animal or other casual contact with an infected animal. Although people can get Orf from goats and sheep, they cannot pass it from person to person.

Most livestock professionals consider Sore mouth a job hazard. Even in humans, there is no treatment for Sore mouth. It usually lasts 2 months and can be painful. The sores usually don’t leave scars. People can become infected from handling the vaccine or participating in the vaccination of their goat herd. Always wear a protective covering when you deal with infected animals or vaccinations.

Frequently Asked Questions

 How do I know if my goat has Sore Mouth or Foot and Mouth Disease? Sore mouth looks similar to Foot and Mouth Disease. However, in the United States, there have been no cases of FMD since 1929. Check with your local disease center to find out if your country has experienced recent cases of FDM. A vet can also help to identify if your goats have sore mouths or FMD. 

Can you eat a goat with a sore mouth? Currently, no studies have been done to determine if it’s safe for people to eat Orf-infected goat meat. Because transmission usually occurs from the scabs of the infected animal, it’s probable that the meat will not contaminate a person. It would be better to allow an infected goat to heal before butchering it and make sure the meat is thoroughly cooked. 

Related Articles

Understanding CL in Goats: Infection, Prevention, and Treatment

Understanding and Preventing Rabies in Goats

Tetanus and Overeating Disease in Goats: Prevention and Treatment

Resources 

Controlling Sore Mouth in Meat Goats | NC State Extension Publications (ncsu.edu)

Infection in Animals | Orf Virus (Sore Mouth Infection) | Poxvirus | CDC

Annemaria Duran

Hi, I’m Annemaria Duran. I moved out to the country 6 years ago, mainly so I could have more land. I love all aspects of country living. First, we got chickens, then ducks. Now we have sheep, goats, and rabbits. I'm always learning and love sharing it!

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