The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced today that test results from samples taken from a juvenile elk in the Yakima herd confirmed the presence of elk hoof disease, known scientifically as treponeme-associated hoof disease (TAHD).
The disease can cause hoof deformities leading to hooves sloughing off and even death. This is the first confirmed case of the disease in the Yakima herd.
“For many years, we’ve been surveying for hoof disease in the Yakima area, but we have never had a case of a limping or lame elk associated with hoof disease,” said Kyle Garrison, WDFW ungulate specialist. “The case, confirmed by Washington State University, was an early grade lesion and probably wouldn’t have affected the animal’s gait initially.”
The infected elk was discovered as WDFW and WSU College of Veterinary Medicine staff captured elk from central Washington feeding sites to support WSU’s elk hoof disease research facility.
First documented in the early 2000s, hoof disease has since been found in 17 Washington counties, primarily west of the Cascades, affecting eight of Washington’s 10 elk herds. California, Idaho, and Oregon have also reported cases of the disease. In 2019, WDFW confirmed the disease in Walla Walla County – the eastern-most detection in Washington state.
Throughout western Washington, about 12% of successful hunters reported abnormal hooves on their harvest, which serves as a measure of prevalence. However, in eastern Washington – where the disease has been confirmed in the Blue Mountains and recently the Yakima elk herd – less than 1% of hunters report hoof abnormalities.
Scientists suspect several factors contribute to elk hoof disease development, including wet or moist environmental conditions and an elk’s individual condition. Outside of southwest Washington prevalence has remained very low.
“We’re going to increase our surveillance, continue our cooperation with WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and we’re also asking eastern Washington hunters and recreationists to keep an eye out for limping elk or elk with hoof deformities,” said Garrison.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent TAHD, nor are there any proven options for treating it in the field. There is no evidence that the disease affects humans.
State wildlife managers are asking hunters and other members to report any observations of limping elk or elk with abnormal hooves via WDFW’s online reporting tool.