Anthrax is a bacterial infection affecting mammals and some species of birds.

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First published:
14 November 2018
Last updated:

Grazing animals are particularly at risk and the disease is often fatal. Anthrax can be transmitted from animals to humans (zoonotic).

Suspicion and confirmation

Contact your local Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) office immediately on 0300 303 8268, if you suspect Anthrax.

APHA vets will investigate suspected cases.

You should always suspect Anthrax with any sudden or unaccountable livestock death.

Clinical signs

Affected animals can be ill for several days with:

  • high temperature 
  • shivering and twitching
  • harsh dry coat 
  • fits 
  • bright staring eyes
  • colicky pains 
  • dejection 
  • refusal of food
  • marked decrease or complete loss of milk

The period of illness in cattle and sheep is often short. Affected animals may be found dead showing no signs of illness. In pigs and horses, the disease is slower to develop, but usually fatal.

Transmission, prevention and treatment

Anthrax can exist as spores. These are capable of surviving in the environment for many years. Grazing animals may ingest the spores after disturbance of the soil (for example heavy rainfall or flooding).

Infected carcasses are dangerous to animals and humans. If you suspect infection, isolate the animals immediately and inform APHA.

Treatment is often ineffective due to the rapid fatal course of the disease. Ask your vet for advice about if your animals are continually exposed to anthrax.