Soremouth, also called orf or contagious ecthyma, is a highly contagious virus of the Pox family. Symptoms, transmission, and treatment in goats is similar to symptoms, transmission, and treatment of chickenpox in human children. Young animals are the most susceptible to developing lesions around the lips, eyelids, nose, etc.; but adult does tend to have more violent outbreaks on their udder, teats, and feet. This disease is easily spread to people when they come in contact with infected goats with the infection normally centered on the hands or face.


Soremouth is relatively easy to diagnose, but it can be confused with ulcerative dermatosis or Staphylococcus dermatitis. While most diagnosis is based on clinical signs, blood and tissue samples can be sent to a lab for a definitive diagnosis.

Between 3 and 14 days after coming in contact with the virus, small red spots will appear. These spots will turn into blisters/pustules then ulcers which will eventually form thick scabs. It may take up to 3 weeks for the scabs to fall off at which point the disease has run its course.

While the most common way goats contact soremouth is from an infected animal being introduced into the herd, the scabs that fall off infected animals remain infected with the virus for up to 7 years. Thus the virus can be spread by contact with fences, gates, equipment and feed stands. There must be a break in the skin of the animal before it can be infected. Also, some animals, with no visible signs of the disease themselves, can be carriers

Once one animal comes down with soremouth, it tends to infect the entire herd over a period of 1 to 2 months. Some experts on the subject claim once an animal is infected with soremouth it will be forever immuned while Dr. Fred Hopkins from the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee claims the immunity to this disease is as little as two months but no longer than a year.

Since soremouth is a virus, there is really no effective treatment. Many people will put iodine, or a combination with 50% iodine and 50% glycerine, on the sores while others use an antibiotic/antibacterial cream. While this does nothing for the disease itself, it may cut down on secondary infections. This is especially important if a nursing kid infects its dam's udders as the secondary infection can sometimes cause Staphylococcal mastitis. When applying a topical treatment to the sores, be sure to wear vinyl or rubber gloves since this disease is contagious to humans. Dr. Naylor Udder Balm has a soothing, healing effect when applied to the doe's udder.

One additional concern/side effect of young, nursing kids contacting soremouth is their refusal to nurse or the mother refusing to allow them to nurse. Severely affected babies may need to be tube fed if their mouth lesions are extremely painful. Dams with infected udders may kick the kids if they develop teat lesions and/or mastitis.

Soremouth can be prevented with a vaccination, but use of the vaccine is highly controversial. The Ovine Ecthyma Vaccine is a live virus; over-the-counter vaccine manufactured by Colorado Serum. It comes in a powder form that has to be reconstituted prior to use and only comes in 100 dose vials. The vaccine is administered by scratching the virus into an area with no hair, i.e., the inside of the thigh. This will cause a reddening in that area as well as some swelling, and after a while the area will scab over with the scab falling off in approximately 3 weeks. Since this is a live virus vaccine, it is not recommended unless the herd already has the disease because the vaccine procedure will introduce the disease to the herd. If the herd has an extremely bad orf problem, kids as young as 2 or 3 days old should be vaccinated. Most kids, where the vaccine is used, should be vaccinated between 6 to 8 weeks of age. Anyone handling the vaccine should wear gloves to prevent human infection through abrasions or small cuts.

Since contagious ecthyma can so easily be transmitted to humans, great care should be taken. This causes extremely painful sores, normally on the hands and arms, that last for weeks. Should skin be exposed to the virus, wash the skin with a disinfectant than apply an antiseptic. Always wear rubber or plastic gloves when handling the infected animals, and keep children away from infected animals. Any equipment that comes in contact with infected goats should also be disinfected.

Should your goats get soremouth, its not the end of the world. Soremouth is no more serious than chickenpox in children. Be sure to keep an eye on any lesions because the secondary infections can be quite serious. Close monitoring of the animals is a risk management technique to limit any economic losses.

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Ken and Pat Motes
Clear Creek Farms
33 South Clear Creek Road
Fall River, Tennessee 38468
Phone: (931) 852-2167
Fax: (931) 852-2168

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