Foot and Mouth Disease

Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) is a highly infectious virus that has disastrous consequences for the livestock industry and the population of beef cattle and other cloven-hoofed animals worldwide. Fortunately, Canada has achieved FMD-free status, but everyone must stay vigilant to the risks and be prompt in our response in case of a possible outbreak.  

Key Points
Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) is caused by the Foot and Mouth Disease Virus. It affects multiple livestock species including cows, sheep, pigs and goats, as well as multiple wildlife species such as wild hogs and deer populations. 
FMD is a reportable disease in Canada, which means that any suspect cases must be reported to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) immediately. 
It is crucial to detect FMD outbreaks early and involve a veterinarian as soon as symptoms are suspected to prevent the spread and limit the impact on the cattle sector’s economy. 
FMD is not a public health concern, nor is it a food safety issue. FMD is NOT related to the similarly named Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease common in children. 
The clinical signs of FMD are abortion and sudden death in neonates, anorexia, depression, fever, lameness, reduced milk output, salivation, blisters and lesions on the mouth, teats, and feet. 
Canada has an FMD-free without vaccination* trade status. The last incidence of FMD in Canada was in Saskatchewan in 1952. 
An FMD outbreak would impact Canada’s ability to export animals and meat and animal products to other markets and could result in an estimated $19.4B to $65.2B of economic impact. 
FMD is estimated to circulate in 77% of the global livestock population in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, as well as in limited areas of South America. 
Canada’s FMD-free status can be maintained by following biosecurity measures put into place by the CFIA and Canada’s Border Service Agency. Good biosecurity practices on farms are the next level of defense against the introduction and possible spread of the virus. 
The outbreak response plan in Canada is managed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and will include a “stamping out” approach to disease eradication and return to FMD-free status. 
The Government of Canada has invested in an FMD vaccine bank, which will only be used in the face of a severe outbreak.  
FMD is diagnosed via laboratory testing carried out by CFIA-certified veterinarians. Any potential cases must be diagnosed as promptly as possible to either confirm or rule out FMD.  
There are several avenues for Canadian cattle producers to become more educated and prepared in the event of an FMD outbreak.  
Cow with FMD blister – Photo courtesy of Animal Health Australia

Introduction to Foot and Mouth Disease

Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) is one of the most contagious animal diseases. It is caused by a virus in the family Picornaviridae that infects cloven-hooved animal species. There are currently seven different recognized serotypes of the virus, although it is a rapidly evolving and mutating virus that changes over time. FMD is an animal disease and is not related to a disease in humans caused by the Coxsackie virus called Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease, which is common in children. 

The following species are at risk for infection and could act as hosts or disease reservoirs if exposed in Canada: 

  • Cattle 
  • Bison 
  • Pigs 
  • Sheep 
  • Goats 
  • Deer 
  • Elk 
  • Moose 
  • Caribou 
  • Musk ox 
  • Wild boar 
  • Antelope 
  • Llamas 
  • Alpacas 

FMD is an animal disease and is not related to a disease in humans caused by the Coxsackie virus called Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease, which is common in children. 

What You Need to Know About FMD

Clinical Signs and Diagnosis of Foot and Mouth Disease

The FMD virus typically causes production-limiting illness in infected animals, allowing them to continue replicating and spreading the virus to others without causing death. Once the clinical signs are established as possible FMD, a CFIA-certified veterinarian would be contacted to collect samples to submit to the national testing laboratory in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  

The clinical signs of Foot and Mouth Disease in individual beef cattle include: 

  • Loss of appetite 
  • Fever 
  • Abortion and sudden death in neonates 
  • Depression 
  • Lameness 
  • Reduced milk output 
  • Excessive salivation 
  • Vesicles (blisters) and lesions on the mouth, teats, and feet. 

These symptoms can then be applied to larger herd metrics and be traced by: 

  • Cattle off feed or with greatly reduced feed intake 
  • Increased treatments for lameness 
  • Increased treatments for bovine respiratory disease (BRD) (Excessive salivation due to oral lesions can be mistaken for BRD if the mouth is not inspected). 

Early detection is paramount as it can prevent spread and limit the size of an outbreak and thereby avoid devastating economic consequences for the entire cattle sector.

Foot and Mouth Disease lesions in the mouth of a cow
FMD lesions in the mouth of a cow – Photo courtesy of Animal Health Australia

In the case of a probable FMD diagnoses in a livestock herd, the priorities of an investigation include: 

  • Is it likely to be FMD? 
  • Where did the virus come from? 
  • How long has it been there? 
  • Where could it have spread? 
  • What is the potential number of cases? 
  • What populations are most at risk? 
  • What is the timeline? 

Once the declaration is in place, CFIA staff will immediately begin assessing the health of all animals on the farm. This includes taking samples from animals for laboratory testing and analysis. They will also review records to determine any movements of animals onto or off of the farm within the last month.

Detecting Foot-and-mouth disease in cattle - AHEM
Download 2-page PDF from the Animal Health Emergency Management Project

To help CFIA staff in their investigation, a producer will be asked to provide the following: 

  • a site plan of the premises; 
  • herd inventory records; 
  • a detailed description of management practices including biosecurity measures; 
  • records of purchase/sale of animals including those sent to slaughter; 
  • movements of people, equipment, vehicles, stock trucks, etc.; 
  • records of animal movement to and from shows, fairs, etc.; 
  • a list of visitors including service providers (logbooks if available); and 
  • contact information for the local veterinarian. 

Using records and other information provided, CFIA staff trace the movements of all susceptible livestock, vehicles, equipment and visitors who may have come into contact with the infected animal(s). This includes locating animals that have recently moved off the farm, and examining movement records of the infected animal(s). These activities are essential in determining if there are other properties that need to be investigated and the size of the control zone that will need to be established. 

Establishing a Foot and Mouth Disease Timeline 

Disease outbreak investigators commonly use a template to track the outbreak’s progression. The template helps to identify the most probable date that the virus first arrived on premises. It also identifies animals that are at risk of encountering the disease.  

Foot-and-mouth disease timeline template
  • Lesion aging: If lesions are up to 5 days old, they can be accurately aged by a veterinarian with +/- 1 day. This helps to determine when the first animal may have gotten sick.  
  • Incubation period: the incubation period represents the time from infection with the virus to the time the animal shows clinical signs. 
  • Transmission period: Cattle may excrete the virus up to 2 days before clinical signs, but peak infectiousness is when blisters/lesions are present (day 3-4). The virus can be detected in milk up to 4 days before the appearance of clinical signs. 
  • Risk Period: 14 days prior to an outbreak, and 14 days following an outbreak. 

How is Foot and Mouth Disease Spread? 

Once the FMD Virus has established itself within Canada, it will spread very quickly and easily. The main routes of transmission are: 

  • Direct: animal-to-animal contact. Note that animals not susceptible to FMD (e.g., horses, chickens, mice) may still be able to spread the virus to susceptible species for a short period of time. In addition, humans can also carry the virus in their respiratory tract for up to two days. 
  • Animal products: feeding contaminated meat, feed, or waste to animals or feeding untreated milk to young animals.  
  • Mechanical transmission: bringing the virus into contact with animals via inanimate objects such as footwear, clothing, tools machinery, or vehicles.
  • Air: the virus can be carried from farm to farm via wind.  

Producers can slow the spread by implementing simple biosecurity measures, having good records of animal movements, and training all farm workers to respect biosecurity planning and implementation. Early detection and reporting are paramount to minimizing the economic impact an outbreak would have on the industry.  

FMD free status symbol

Economic Impact of a Foot and Mouth Disease Outbreak 

Canada is considered FMD-free without vaccination by the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH). This enables increased access to export markets for livestock products worldwide. An outbreak would impact Canada’s ability to export animals to other markets and could cost an estimated $19.4 billion to $65.2 billion in potential impacts on the economy.   

Global Disease Prevalence and the History of FMD in Canada

According to the World Organization for Animal Health, Foot and Mouth Disease is estimated to circulate in 77% of the global livestock population in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, as well as in a limited area of South America.

Notice: no visitors or traffic allowed due to outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the south
The Western Producer file photo

Canada last saw an outbreak in 1952 in Southern Saskatchewan. During this outbreak, 42 properties had been in contact with the virus and 29 were infected. To stop the spread, 1,313 cattle, 294 pigs, 97 sheep, 2,372 fowl and 15,828 eggs were destroyed.

For more information on how it is suspected that the virus arrived in Canada, and the impact of the actions of one person carrying this highly contagious virus, read this Feb. 2, 2023, article from The Western Producer.

How Do We Protect Canadian Livestock from Foot and Mouth Disease? 

The prevention of an outbreak of FMD within Canadian borders is the responsibility of all Canadians. The CFIA, Canadian Border Services Agency, and all livestock industry stakeholders work together to ensure that Canada keeps its FMD-free status. 

1. Canadian Food Inspection Agency: 

  • The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) controls the movement of animals into, out of, and within the country. The CFIA does not permit imports of susceptible animals and animal products from countries that are not recognized by Canada as being “free of FMD” unless the products have been processed in a manner that destroys the virus. 
  • FMD is a “reportable disease” under the Health of Animals Act. This means that all suspected cases must be immediately reported by law to the CFIA for investigation by inspectors. 

2. Canada Border Services Agency: 

  • Ensures all travelers are screened for risk when returning to Canada. 
  • Educates travelers on biosecurity protocols to reduce and eliminate risk of disease transmission to Canadian farms.  

Did you know?

  • International travelers who are potentially exposed to FMD should not visit a farm for 2 weeks.
  • The FMD virus can live in organic material for upwards of one month.
  • Humans can carry the FMD virus in their respiratory tract for 24-48 hours.

Source: World Organization for Animal Health

3. Canadian Farmers and Ranchers: 

  • Establish biosecurity protocols for their farms. 
  • Practice good biosecurity when visiting other farms, auction marts, feedlots, livestock shows or any other location where animals are comingling. 
  • Become VBP+ trained or certified to be familiar with risk management strategies that mitigate the possibility of a biosecurity threat. 
  • Respect and follow recommendations and rules from Canadian Customs when returning from visiting abroad. 
  • Ensure all employees and visitors to the farm follow biosecurity protocols. 
  • Watch for any signs of FMD and report to a veterinarian immediately upon suspicion of symptoms

What kills the virus?

disinfectant table
Click to enlarge.

Farm Biosecurity

Having a solid biosecurity policy and plan can prevent disease from striking your farm and help improve your response when it does. Good biosecurity practices are the best defense against an outbreak of a foreign animal disease for three reasons: 

  1. 1. Bio Exclusion: One way to prevent diseases from entering your herd is by taking proactive measures. For instance, when a new individual visits your farm, they should disinfect their boots to eliminate virus particles before contacting your animals. This reduces the risk of disease transmission and helps keep your herd healthy. 
  1. 2. Bio Management: The next step is to prevent the spread once a pathogen has infected an animal in your herd. For example, using separate equipment to treat sick animals and healthy animals to ensure that the pathogens are not spread to healthy animals via inanimate objects like loader buckets or pails.  
  1. 3. Bio Containment: Control the movement of people, animals, and equipment to ensure no disease is spread to other properties.  

Think you have a closed herd? Think again.

Click the graphic below to review common ways a herd becomes open, allowing disease to enter a herd.

do you think you have a closed herd?
biosecurity protocols stop disease  from entering, spreading within or leaving a herd

What Would Canada’s Response to a Foot and Mouth Disease Outbreak Look Like?

Because of Canada’s FMD-free trade status, to eradicate FMD, the CFIA would use its “stamping out” policy, which includes: 

  • humane destruction of all infected and exposed animals 
  • tracing to identify locations of potentially infected or exposed animals 
  • surveillance to detect newly infected animals 
  • quarantine and animal movement controls to prevent spread 
  • possible use of focused emergency FMD vaccine, as part of a quarantine and eradication program 
  • decontamination of infected premises 
  • zoning to define infected and disease-free areas 

“The FMD Vaccine Bank is a key investment in emergency preparedness to ensure the health of Canadian livestock. Having a vaccine on hand in the event of an FMD outbreak will reduce the potential number of animals to be infected and in turn reduce the magnitude of a complex multi-species emergency response effort. We live in a global economy which relies on the movement of people, animals and goods for trade. This means a potential outbreak of FMD is only one flight away. Having the FMD Vaccine Bank in place is a critical piece of insurance for Canadian farmers.”

– Colleen McElwain, Executive Director, Animal Health Canada

Information Producers Need to Understand, Prepare and Respond to FMD

Preparing for Animal Disease Emergencies Producer Summary from AHEM
Understand, Prepare and Respond to Animal Health Emergencies, AHEM brochure

Additional Foot and Mouth Disease Resources

There are many organizations worldwide committed to controlling, preventing, and monitoring Foot and Mouth Disease. These organizations have developed several resources that are accessible to veterinarians and livestock producers in Canada to help them prepare in advance for any potential emergencies. 

for Producers:

for veterinarians:

Online Courses: 


Feedback and questions on the content of this page are welcome. Please e-mail us.


Thanks to our colleagues at the Canadian Cattle Association, Verified Beef Production Plus and Alberta Beef Producers for contributing their time and expertise in developing this page. 

Expert Review

This content was last reviewed February 2024.

This topic was last revised on May 13, 2024 at 1:07 pm.