Foot and Mouth Disease in Cattle

Foot and mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious viral disease of all cloven-hoofed animals (cattle, sheep, pigs, deer, camels, alpacas, goats etc). It is one of the most severe epidemic animal diseases. Although not generally fatal in adult animals, it causes serious losses in production.

What are the signs of FMD?

One of the key signs of FMD is fluid filled blisters on the tongue and in the mouths of animals causing them to salivate excessively.  Lameness is also common due to blisters on the feet. In dairy cattle, milk production drops.

How is it Spread?

As FMD is caused by a highly contagious virus, it is spread by either direct contact with infected animals and animal products, in the air through virus droplets, or from contact with infected tools, instruments etc. It can be carried on shoes, clothing, machinery etc.

Why is FMD so Important?

It causes serious economic loss as the trade of animal products from FMD-infected countries to FMD free countries is banned. As our major export markets are free of FMD, exports from Australia would be banned until the country was considered FMD free again.

What are the consequences of FMD entering Australia?

The estimated cost of a large scale outbreak in export income to Australia is $5.8 billion It would decrease our GDP by 3.5% through lost production, lost markets, lost trade etc. As a consequence it will increase unemployment by 1%. In addition, there would be high costs associated with eradicating the disease and many flow-on effects in other industries.

What procedures are in place to prevent FMD entering Australia?

There are many procedures in place to prevent FMD entering Australia, including surveillance and import restrictions.

Quarantine Barrier

The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) has put into place a number of measures to prevent the introduction of FMD into Australia:

Meat, animals and animal products are banned from entering Australia from known FMD infected countries and a permit system is in place for the importation of products from other countries with stringent guidelines.

Anyone entering Australia must declare any food  or animal product at airports or shipping terminals and international air travellers are subject to inspection by quarantine officers with clothes and shoes being checked for signs of soil and manure.

Meat lockers on ships, which may carry infected meat are locked under bond on entering Australian waters. Livestock vessels are disinfected completely and inspected by AQIS officers before being allowed to dock.

Anyone disembarking from livestock vessels must pass through a soda-ash foot-bath.

Food and waste from international planes and ships is disposed of by burning or deep burial under the supervision of AQIS.


Currently the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS) examines wild pig and buffalo populations in northern Australia for signs of FMD and other exotic diseases. Blood is also collected from these animals for laboratory evaluation.

What other contingencies are in place?

Emergency Animal Disease Preparedness (EADP)

Federal, State and Territory governments have response plans drawn up in case such an emergency ever arose. Some of the contingencies already in place include:

The Australian Veterinary Emergency Plan (AUSVETPLAN) – a series of documents covering FMD and a whole host of other exotic diseases. A coordinated national response plan for the control and eradication of exotic diseases. (AUSVETPLAN can be found on the Internet at the Animal Health Australia website at

Training – government departments also carry out regular “scenario role plays” involving different departments of government as well as industry representatives. Training is provided to livestock industry workers, emergency workers and veterinarians. There is a National Response Team trained, competent and ready to go wherever needed if the situation arose.

Awareness – livestock industry and community awareness programs like “Protect Australian Livestock Week” are run annually. Awareness is continuously reinforced through the advertisement of emergency animal disease watch hotline numbers.

Exotic Disease Training

The Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) located in Geelong, Victoria and State Departments of Primary Industry conduct regular training for government and private veterinarians in exotic animal disease detection.

Disease Surveillance

Both private and government vets are aware of the FMD threat. Their work involves investigating and diagnosing disease with a hands-on approach to animal health. Any suspicious or unusual disease would be reported to the Chief Veterinary Officers of the respective State or Territory. Private and Government veterinarians are made aware of their responsibilities and are updated continuously.

The general public can report any unusual signs in livestock to an emergency hotline number:  1800 675 888.