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FMD Wildlife, Zoos, Pets and other Animals:

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Introduction and General Information

Foot-and-Mouth disease is generally though about as a disease of domestic livestock - cattle, sheep, pigs and goats. However this disease can also affect a wide range of other species, mostly cloven-hooved animals but also animals as different from one another and from domestic livestock as elephants and hedgehogs. In some of these animals FMD virus causes severe disease.

Every animal, whether or not it can get the disease, may spread virus from one place to another mechanically - on feet, fur, feathers etc. and in some cases at least also via the gut (i.e. virus is found in faeces if infected material is eaten).

Published Guidelines linked in Wildpro

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FMD and Susceptible Wild Mammals

The Disease in Susceptible Wild Mammals

FMD may cause serious disease in wild animals. 50% of a population of Gazella gazella - Mountain gazelle died when FMD went through the population in Israel. Ten percent of Odocoileus hemionus - Mule deer in California were found to have FMD lesions in the last outbreak in the USA. In Britain, hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus - West European hedgehog) have been found with serious and fatal disease while deer on and near Infected Premises have been seen lame and with typical FMD lesions. However, various species also may develop only mild clinical signs, or seroconvert without obvious illness developing.

Further information on the disease in these and other species is given in the following pages:

The Potential Role of Susceptible Wild Mammals in FMD Spread

Many countries have free-living (wild or feral) populations of species which are susceptible to FMD. If the disease were to enter such a population, it could not only affect those animals but also be transmitted back to domestic species. Transfer of the virus between wild and domestic animals is most likely where there is close contact between the animals.

The potential importance of wildlife populations in maintaining FMD in a region may vary depending on a variety of factors such as the susceptibility of the wildlife species to FMD, their ability to carry the infection without clinical signs, their distribution, population density and degree of association with other susceptible species such as domestic livestock

In general, outside sub-Saharan Africa, FMD in wildlife appears to occur as an extension to the disease in domestic livestock (J249.91.w1). However, models of the epidemiology of FMD in feral species indicate that, once established in a feral population, it may be difficult or impossible to eradicate that infection. In the USA during the last outbreak of FMD, tens of thousands of mule deer were shot in California as part of the control programme to eradicate the disease. In Israel, Mountain gazelles were culled in a wide zone to prevent the disease spreading from an outbreak in this species which killed approximately 50% of the population in the affected area. In Africa, fencing is used to prevent contact between domestic livestock and wild mammals, particularly Syncerus caffer - African buffalo. Vaccination of free-living animals against FMDV is unlikely to be practical.

In Africa:

  • In Africa, FMD Viruses are maintained by wild mammals; Syncerus caffer - African buffalo is very important as the main host for the SAT types of FMD virus, with the disease circulating through this population and sometimes being transmitted from buffalo to other wildlife species and to cattle. It appears that transmission between species (e.g. Syncerus caffer - African buffalo to Aepyceros melampus - Impala may be increased when sharing habitats such as grazing areas. Syncerus caffer - African buffalo have been shown to be an occasional, important, source of FMD infection for cattle in southern Africa.
  • Extensive use is made of fencing to keep domestic livestock from direct contact with wild species and reduce the chances of disease transmission; additionally, cattle in some areas near wildlife reservoirs (e.g. around the Kruger National Park) are regularly vaccinated. It is thought that transmission from Syncerus caffer - African buffalo populations to domestic cattle may occur via infection of Aepyceros melampus - Impala or kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros - Greater kudu), which are able to jump the fences around the areas containing the African buffalo (J64.23.w2, J67.44.w1). Additionally, it is possible that the disease is transmitted from Syncerus caffer - African buffalo bulls to female domestic cattle during sexual activity (J249.91.w1).
  • Additionally, FMD may spread from domestic livestock to wildlife (J1.11.w6, J249.91.w1).
  • Note: Hippopotamus_amphibius - Hippopotamus have not ever been proven to get FMD and serological testing of 877 sera from hippos in the Kruger National Park, South Africa, failed to find evidence of infection. African elephants (Loxodonta spp.) "are not considered susceptible to FMD in natural circumstances." (J249.91.w1)
  • Fences used to separate domestic livestock from wildlife and prevent FMD transmission are problematic because they can have adverse effects of wild animal populations, blocking migration routes and preventing access to water. (B210.89.w89, J249.91.w1)
  • Restrictions placed on movements of non-domestic animals and their products (meat, hides etc.) for FMD control also may make wildlife management more difficult. (J249.91.w1)

In Australia:

  • Feral animal populations such as wild boar may be important if FMD were to reach Australia. Infection in several species of Australian mammals has been shown experimentally, but a significant role of native species in the spread of disease if FMD occurred in Australia was considered to be unlikely. Studies were carried out on whether it would be possible to eliminate a population of wild pigs from an area in the event of their becoming affected by disease. It was concluded that although a great reduction of population could be achieved by extreme effort, complete elimination would probably be impossible.

In North America:

  • In the USA, deer populations in many states are managed for hunting and are maintained at high population densities. It is recognised that, if FMD got into the deer population, there would be a high risk of the disease becoming endemic.

In Kazakhstan (former USSR):

  • In this area, infection spreading from cattle into a large population (estimated more than one million) Saiga tatarica - Saiga antelope, followed by migration of the antelope, lead to dissemination of disease and transfer back into cattle in places distant from the original outbreak. Saiga tatarica - Saiga antelope have been recognised as a major potential source of infection for domestic cattle, with an appreciation of the requirements for monitoring movements of Saiga tatarica - Saiga antelope in order to put in place measures to reduce the risk of transmission to cattle at the relevant times, also recognition of the need and ability to prevent infection of Saiga tatarica - Saiga antelope in order to prevent spread of FMD).

In the Middle East:

In Europe:

  • It has been recognised for many years that wild deer may, at least on occasion, play a role in the transmission of FMD in Europe (B220).
  • In the UK, there are substantial deer populations. Experiments carried out involving five of the six free-living species showed that transmission from domestic livestock to deer and from deer to domestic livestock was possible, and that two of the species, Capreolus capreolus - Western roe deer and Muntiacus reevesi - Chinese muntjac, may develop severe and sometimes fatal disease. At that time, it was considered unlikely that the wild deer populations would play an important role in the transmission and maintenance of FMD in the UK. This was related to the population levels of the deer, and because it was considered that in the wild, domestic species and deer did not tend to come into close contact with one another. Transfer within areas such as deer parks, where cattle, sheep and deer graze alongside one another, was considered more likely. (J3.96.w3).
  • Since the time of those studies, the deer population in the UK has expanded considerably in size. In some areas, particularly upland areas, domestic animals and deer commonly graze on the same areas and interspecies transmission (livestock to deer and deer to livestock) could be expected to occur. The potential for spillover from livestock to deer should not be forgotten. (J35.174.w1)
  • It has been suggested that if FMD spread from domestic livestock and became established in a wild deer population in Europe, it might not be safe to keep unvaccinated animals in the area. (P5.40S.w3)
  • It would be difficult to control FMD in wild deer; spread would depend on the social organisation and density of the species involved, and might "peter out after several weeks or months." (J249.91.w2)
    • Deer with severe clinical disease would be unlikely to travel far and transport the virus; however, they could spread FMD in the period when they were infectious before developing clinical signs, or if they developed only mild clinical disease. (J249.91.w2)
    • Factors affecting whether infection would be maintained in a wild or feral animal population would include "population density and distribution, habitat requirements, social organization, age structure, home range, and barriers to dispersal"; geographical density, population size, and connectivity would be most important in affecting transmission between populations. (J67.80.w1)
  • Sus scrofa - Wild boar are also susceptible to FMD. The disease in wild boar is similar to that in domestic pigs and excretion of virus is probably in similar quantities. Wild boar in other areas of the world have been recognised as sources of infection for other animals and there is no reason to suppose that wild boar in the UK and elsewhere in Europe could not get and transmit infection
  • Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog are also highly susceptible to FMD, but as they do not tend to travel far when infected, they would be unlikely to be responsible for other than very local spread. There is however the possibility that that hedgehogs infected just before entering hibernation in the autumn could maintain the virus over winter then develop the disease and transmit the virus to domestic livestock in the spring.
  • For the EU, COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 2003-85-EC of 29 September 2003 on Community measures for the control of foot-and-mouth disease - Annex XVIII - full text provided sets out "measures to be taken in case of confirmation of the presence of foot-and-mouth disease in wild animals".
Preventing FMD in Susceptible Wild Mammals
  • Transmission of FMD to susceptible wild mammals in an area, country or region may be prevented by preventing importation of the virus into countries where it is not endemic, by protecting domestic livestock from FMD so they are less likely to transmit the disease to wildlife, or by keeping livestock and wildlife physically separated, for example with fences. (J249.91.w1)
  • Wild mammals theoretically could be vaccinated against FMD and there is no reason to presume they would not have an appropriate immunological response to vaccination. However, vaccination of wildlife has not been seriously considered. (J249.91.w1)
    • Based on experience with other diseases, vaccination of wildlife could present serious challenges. (J35.Y.w1, J238.112.w1, J471.2.w1)
  • In the event of an outbreak of FMD, wildlife may be best protected by protecting them against exposure to the virus, e.g. by keeping domestic livestock and wildlife apart, or by vaccinating livestock.

(J1.11.w6, J3.119.w3, J3.134.w2, J19.124.w1, J24.52.w1, J35.Y.w1, J64.7.w1, J64.15.w1, J64.23.w2, J67.44.w1, J67.80.w1, J74.46.w1, J76.47.w1, J238.112.w1, J249.91.w1, J249.91.w2, J471.2.w1, B58, B209.5.w5, B220, W27.24Mar07.w1, W27.27Apr07.w1)

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FMD and Zoo Animals

Many zoo animals are known or thought to be susceptible to FMD, including elephants and a number of endangered species. Strict disinfection and quarantine procedures are important to minimise the risk of the virus infecting zoo animals. In regions where vaccination is not prohibited, vaccination can be used to protect animals in zoos. Vaccines have been used extensively in a wide variety of species in zoos in Europe and elsewhere.
  • The Infectious Diseases in Livestock [Royal Society Inquiry Report] stated that there was a "clear cut" case for use of vaccination to protect zoological collections and rare breeds, considering that they "are genetically important, are held in secure locations and do not participate in in normal trading movements" but noted the need for certain detailed conditions to be met: 
    • "the groups of animals concerned should be designated in advance of an outbreak;
    • bio-sanitary precautions must be agreed in advance, subject to inspection, and approved as part of the designatory process (for zoos, such arrangements could be defined in the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice); and
    • the locations would be accepted under EU law as ‘FMD-free zones where vaccination is practised’."

    (B495.9.w9 - full text provided)

COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 2003-85-EC of 29 September 2003 on Community measures for the control of foot-and-mouth disease (European Union) allows for special considerations for zoo (and some other) animals:


Article 15

Measures to be applied in case of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the vicinity or within certain specific premises keeping on a temporary or regular basis animals of susceptible species

1. Where an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease threatens to infect animals of susceptible species in a laboratory, zoo, wildlife park, and fenced area or in bodies, institutes or centres approved in accordance with Article 13(2) of Directive 92/65/EEC and where animals are kept for scientific purposes or purposes related to conservation of species or farm animal genetic resources, the Member State concerned shall ensure that all appropriate bio-security measures are taken to protect such animals from infection. Those measures may include restricting access to public institutions or making such access subject to special conditions.

2. Where an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease is confirmed in one of the premises referred to in paragraph 1, the Member State concerned may decide to derogate from Article 10(1)(a), provided that basic Community interests, and in particular the animal health status of other Member States, are not endangered and that all necessary measures are in place to prevent any risk of spreading foot-and-mouth disease virus.

3. The decision referred to in paragraph 2 shall immediately be notified to the Commission. In the case of farm animal genetic resources, this notification shall include a reference to the list of premises established in accordance with Article 77(2)(f), by which the competent authority has identified these premises in advance as breeding nucleus of animals of susceptible species indispensable for the survival of a breed.

In the UK, Defra has noted that "These special measures may include derogation from killing all susceptible animals if the premises become infected and consideration of the use of emergency vaccination if the premises falls within a vaccination zone." (W66.Sept07.w7)

There are concerns about the possibility of vaccinated zoo animals becoming infected, becoming "carriers" and possibly transmitting FMD to naive animals. (J249.91.w1)

Opinions regarding the epidemiological importance of carrier 

(B214.3.14.w6, B214.3.17.w7, J64.11.w1, J64.21.w26, J71.57.w1, J78.3.w1, P5.6.w1, P5.40S.w1, D37.Para214, W32.Apl01.sib1).

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FMD and Companion Animals

Pets such as cats, dogs and rabbits are not normally at risk of infection with FMD unless the virus is actually injected into them. Horses do not get the disease. All these species, as with all other species including humans, can spread from one place to another for example on their feet.

It is important to remember that species which are susceptible to FMD, such as llamas, sheep, goats, cattle and even pigs may be kept as pets. These individuals are at risk of becoming infected with FMD and their owners should take strict precautions to protect them and monitor them carefully for any signs of disease. With the possible exception of pet pigs (pigs shedding much more virus than do other animals) a single pet susceptible animal (or even a small group of animals), kept isolated from domestic farm livestock, even if they become infected, are unlikely to transmit disease to other animals.

(J3.108.w3, J3.140.w6, J3.148.w6, J19.124.w2, D34, D36.Appendix II)

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FMD and Wild Birds, Vermin and Invertebrates

Wild birds, rodents, and invertebrates such as flies and ticks may all carry virus from one place to another. Rats may play a larger role in spread of the disease as they can become infected naturally and shed virus in their faeces and urine for some time; dust contaminated with infected rat urine or faeces might result in infection by inhalation. 

Control of rats and other vermin is particularly important on Infected Premises during an outbreak of FMD. The presence of carcasses, waste food etc. which might attract scavenger species should be minimised. It should also be noted that vermin may leave infected premises when their feed sources are removed during cleaning and disinfection of the premises, and may then spread the disease to other places.

(J3.102.w5, J18.41.w1, J42.80.w1, J249.91.w2, B58, D36.Para37-38)

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Authors & Referees

Authors Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS
Referee Suzanne I Boardman BVMS MRCVS

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