Pododermatitis in Elephants

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Summary Information
Diseases / List of Miscellaneous / Metabolic / Multifactorial Diseases / Disease summary
Alternative Names See also:
Disease Agents
  • Predisposing factors that may lead to foot diseases in captive elephants include lack of exercise, lack of regular foot care and inspection, nail and sole overgrowth and lack of trimming, inappropriate enclosure surfaces (hard unyielding substrates contribute to the development of foot problems, for example by trauma and by lack of opportunity for digging), constant direct contact with dirty and wet surfaces in which pathogens can proliferate, malnutrition, excess feeding/insufficient exercise leading to overweight elephants which put more stress on their feet, arthritis and inherited poor foot structure. (B22.34.w12, B454.1.w1, B454.16.w16)
  • The aetiological agents are unknown. Several organisms have been isolated from the lesions, including Proteus spp., Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas spp.. However, it is unlikely that these are the primary pathogens. Anaerobic bacteria such as Bacteroides fragilis may be involved. (B22.34.w12)
  • During an outbreak of ulcerative pododermatitis in free-ranging Loxodonta africana - African Elephants a variety of bacteria were isolated. The most consistent isolate was Streptococcus agalactiae. Dichelobacter nodosus, a bacterium involved in domestic ruminant foot problems, was only isolated in two cases. The most likely aetiology was considered to be traumatic injury of the sole, with secondary bacterial infection. (J62.64.w2)

Further information on Disease Agents has only been incorporated for agents recorded in species for which a full Wildpro "Health and Management" module has been completed (i.e. for which a comprehensive literature review has been undertaken). Only those agents with further information available are linked below:

Infectious Agent(s)
Non-infectious Agent(s) --
Physical Agent(s)
General Description

In Elephants:

  • The term pododermatitis can refer to a localised foot abscess or a generalised infection and may occur around the nails or in pockets within and beneath the sole. (B22.34.w12)
  • In cases of severe infection, the bones and joints may be affected, causing osteomyelitis and suppurative arthritis. (B22.34.w12)
  • Severe infection may also extend to involve the digital cushion. (B22.34.w12)

Clinical signs:

  • Reluctance to move and lameness. (B22.34.w12)
    • Severe lameness and obvious pain. (J62.64.w2)
  • Presence of exudates around the toenails. (B22.34.w12)
  • Necropurulent exudate. (J62.64.w2)
  • Foul odour, which is persistent. (B22.34.w12, J62.64.w2)
  • Overgrowth of keratinised structures. (B22.34.w12)
  • Black patches on the foot pad. (P502.1992.w8)
  • Necrosed skin. (P502.1992.w8)
  • Excessive granulation with a hyperkeratotic surface. (P502.1992.w8)
  • Loss of body condition, to emaciation. (J62.64.w2)
Further Information
  • Ulcerative pododermatitis affecting one or more feet (always a front foot if only one foot was involved), was reported in thirteen adult free-ranging Loxodonta africana - African Elephants bulls from the Kruger National Park, South Africa. (J62.64.w2, D301.3.w3)


  • Predisposing factors that may lead to pododermatitis in captive elephants are lack of exercise, lack of regular nail and sole trimming, inadequate enclosure surface, constant direct contact with dirty and wet surfaces, and lack of inspection of the sole. (B22.34.w12, B454.1.w1)
  • In free-ranging elephants, body mass (increasing the risk of damage from standing on objects) and the presence of multiple stumps of vegetation which might cause sole wounds able to act as portals of entry for bacterial infection were considered to be contributory to the development of the disease. (J62.64.w2)

Gross pathology:

  • Large ulcers in the sole of the affected feet. (J62.64.w2) [Data includes findings from clinical examination of anaesthetised animals as well as from post mortem examination.]
    • Each affected foot contained a single, focal, well-demarcated ulcer, round to oval, about 200 x 240 mm diameter. Ulcers were about 20 mm deep. The surface of the ulcer was covered with a necropurulent exudate, malodorous, mixed with soil and other debris. The surface was raw, yellowish-red, crusted with pus and bled freely when lightly scarified. This purulent reaction reached a depth of 2mm below the surface. In some cases ulcers dissected between the keratinised sole and the foot cushion, with the space being filled with tissue debris, exudate and soil. (J62.64.w2)
    • Where a single foot was affected, the nails of the affected foot were overgrown and distorted, those of the opposite foot showed excessive wear. (J62.64.w2)
    • In some cases ulcers had reached the nail junction, resulting in onychia and paronchyia and loss of affected nails.
    • Some lesions appeared to be healing. (J62.64.w2)
    • In one euthanased animal, all four feet were affected and in the hind feet, the ulcers had reached sufficient depth to expose the third phalanx. There was an ascending subcutaneous infection causing limb swelling, and septic arthritis of the phalangeal joints. Draining sinus tracts were present 30 to 70 mm up the foot. and skin was lost as far as 100 mm up the lateral side of the feet. (J62.64.w2)
    • Lymph nodes draining affected legs were severely swollen. (J62.64.w2)
    • In one animal affected on all four feet there was severe swelling and oedema of the prepuce. (J62.64.w2)


  • Severe chronic active, ulcerative, bacterial pododermatitis complicated by hypersensitivity (in one animal) and septic vasculitis. (J62.64.w2)
  • Rubber gloves should be worn while carrying out treatments. (B22.34.w12)
  • Drainage of any pocket, tract or groove, daily if necessary; all the devitalised tissue should be debrided. 
    • Note: Trimming a severely infected foot should be performed under anaesthesia and is usually a laborious and long procedure. (B22.34.w12)
  • Tetanus vaccination should be given if the elephant has not been vaccinated. (B22.34.w12)
  • Once drainage has been established, the foot should be soaking repeatedly in an antibiotic solution or with a disinfectant, such as chlorhexidine, povidone iodine or 5% copper sulphate. Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) may be added to the foot soaking solution. (B22.34.w12, P1.1996.w2)
  • Systemic antibiotics (given orally or parenterally) are recommended if the bone or joints are involved. (B22.34.w12)
    • Note: Anaerobic bacteria may be involved. This should be considered in choosing an appropriate antibiotic. (B22.34.w12)
  • Protection of the foot from environmental contamination may be required. Specially constructed boots, made of canvas or leather, are fitted to keep the foot dry and clean. The boots also need to allow application of disinfectant solution to the infected foot. (B22.34.w12, P1.1996.w2)
  • N.B. If the digital cushion is involved, healing may be slow, since the tissue is avascular, and it will be difficult to maintain drainage, since the elastic tissue expands to block any drainage window produced. (B22.34.w12)
  • For cases extending to cause osteomyelitis or suppurative arthritis, surgical removal of the affected bone may be required. N.B. "the surgery is difficult and the aftercare horrendous."(B22.34.w12)
  • Note: Infrared-thermography may be used to monitor the efficacy or otherwise of treatments. (P6.4.w4)
  • Euthanasia may be required for severe cases (J62.64.w2) or chronic cases which are unresponsive to treatment. (B336.53.w53)


  • Substrate, hygiene and exercise:
    • Provision of appropriate, clean and dry, substrates. (B10.49.w21, B214.3.7.w3, B336.53.w53)
      • A lightly brushed concrete floor is recommended, as it provides an adequate surface: deep brushed concrete floors tend to accumulate faeces and urine where bacteria can grow. (J4.171.w5)
    • Regular exercise, preferably on natural substrates. (B454.5.w5)
    • Adequate hygiene. (B454.5.w5)
  • Foot/nail trimming:
    • Adequate regular foot trimming. (P5.39.w1)
    • Excess sole should be trimmed regularly using a Swiss hoof cutting knife and an abrasive pad. (P1.1996.w2)
    • Trimming of the nails with equine hoof nippers and/ or a rasp at least every two months, if the substrate is not abrasive enough and/or the animal is inactive. (B22.34.w12)
    • Nails should be trimmed carefully with an abrasive pad or hoof rasp, so that the distal tips do not bear any weight when the elephant foot is weight bearing. (P1.1996.w2)
  • Nutrition:
    • Adequate nutrition is recommended to maintain foot health. Biotin, protein and trace elements, such as zinc, selenium and arsenic are some of the nutrients to consider. (B454.3.w3)
Techniques linked to this disease
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Host taxa groups /species

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