Animal notifiable infectious diseases

Find out about infectious animal diseases including Avian influenza (bird flu).

Our trading standards service is responsible for the enforcement of animal health and welfare legislation. This protects livestock on farms, at markets and during transportation. The work is carried out by our animal health and welfare inspectors. The team also advises farmers and traders on the animal health and welfare laws.

Prevention and control of animal infectious diseases is a large part of the team's work. Below are brief details on the main notifiable infectious diseases that can affect animals. You must notify your local animal health office if you suspect any of these diseases are present in your animals. For North Yorkshire, contact Animal and Plant Health Agency Field Service for England North on 0300 0200 301.


Anthrax is an acute and fatal disease caused by a bacterium called bacillus anthracis. All species of animal, including humans, can be affected. Among cattle and sheep, the illness period is short and animals may die without showing signs of illness. Anthrax is not always fatal for cattle and sheep and the animals may be ill for several days. In pigs and horses the disease is usually fatal but takes a longer time to affect the animal.

Signs of anthrax in sheep and cattle:

  • high temperature
  • shivering
  • twitching
  • dry coats
  • loss of appetite

Signs of anthrax in horses and pigs:

  • hot, painful swelling around the neck
  • loss of appetite

Avian influenza - bird flu

Avian influenza is a highly contagious disease affecting many species of birds. There are two types of the virus, highly pathogenic avian influenza and low pathogenic avian influenza, categorized by the disease's ability to spread.

Signs of avian influenza in birds:

  • swelling of the head (oedema)
  • cyanosis (blue discolouration) to the neck and throat
  • dullness
  • loss of appetite
  • respiratory problems
  • diarrhoea
  • drop in egg production

Birds can be affected with low pathogenic avian influenza and not show any signs.

Voluntary poultry register

If you keep 50 or more poultry birds you are legally required to register with the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra). If you have fewer than 50 birds you do not need to register. You are, however, encouraged to register voluntarily so that Defra can send you information quickly if there is an outbreak of disease. To register, call the Defra poultry register helpline on 0800 634 1112.

You will need to provide the following information:

  • your name
  • your premises address
  • your County Parish Holding (CPH) number, if you have one
  • the number of poultry usually on the premises
  • the type of poultry housing
  • why you are rearing poultry
  • the species of bird (for instance, domestic fowl (hens and chickens), turkeys; geese etc)

For further information, including which species of poultry to register, please visit the GOV.UK - Registering poultry page.  

Bluetongue virus

Bluetongue virus is a disease that affects all ruminants (sheep, cattle, goats, deer and camelids). It doesn't affect horses, pigs or humans. The disease is caused by a virus spread through midges and is most likely in summer and autumn, when the midge population is at its height.

Signs in sheep and cattle:

  • nasal discharge
  • conjunctivitis
  • swelling and ulceration in the mouth
  • swelling of the head and neck
  • excess amounts of saliva

Deaths in sheep flocks from the virus can reach 70 per cent. Animals that survive can show a reduction in meat and wool production. In cattle, the disease requires laboratory testing for confirmation.

Classical Swine Fever and African Swine Fever 

These are highly contagious diseases in pigs, each caused by a virus. Classical Swine Fever (CSF) and African Swine Fever (ASF) have similar symptoms, so laboratory testing is necessary to distinguish between them. The main source of CSF appears to be pigs eating infected pork or pork products. The movement of infected pigs is a possible method of spreading CSF.

Symptoms to look for:

  • high temperature
  • dullness
  • loss of appetite
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • reddening or darkening of the skin, particularly ears and snout
  • difficulty breathing
  • coughing
  • runny eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • abortion, stillbirths and weak litters

CSF can have a high mortality rate.

Foot and mouth disease

Foot and mouth disease affects cloven-hoofed animals like cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and deer. It also affects camelids and elephants. It is highly contagious and has serious effects on animal's health and the economics of the livestock industry. FMD is not normally fatal to adult animals, however it is debilitating, causing lameness, and it can reduce productivity as milk yields may drop. It has more serious effects on young livestock and a higher mortality rate.

Signs in cattle, sheep and pigs:

  • severe lameness
  • sores and blister on the feet
  • animals lying down or finding it difficult to walking
  • sores and blisters in and around the mouth or on the tongue

Newcastle disease

Newcastle disease is a highly contagious disease spread among most birds, including fowls, turkeys, geese, ducks, pheasants, guinea fowl and other wild and captive birds, ostriches, emus and rhea.

Signs to look for:

  • depression
  • loss of appetite
  • respiratory problems
  • coughing
  • sneezing

The disease can cause high mortality rates and the symptoms are similar to avian influenza.


Rabies is a fatal disease of the nervous system that can affect all mammals; this includes humans, cats, dogs, farmed animals and wildlife. It is spread by the bite of an infected animal, as the virus is present in the saliva.

Signs to look for:

  • behavioural changes
  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • drool saliva
  • excitement
  • aggression
  • finally, the animal will become paralysed and die, this usually happens 15 days after the first signs of the disease.

Classic rabies was eradicated in land animals in the UK in 1992. Quarantine requirements and the pets' passport scheme help to keep the UK rabies-free. A strain of rabies called European Bat Lyssavirus (EBLV 2) has been detected in some species of bats in the UK.

West Nile virus

West Nile virus affects birds, horses and humans. It is spread by insects, mainly mosquitoes, biting infected birds and contracting the virus. The mosquito will pass the virus onto humans and horses when they are bitten. This causes encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and meningitis (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord). Horses seem most susceptible to infection, but most cases are sub-clinical with the horse showing no obvious signs of disease. Sometimes infected animals will develop a fever or encephalitis.

For more information on all notifiable diseases, visit the GOV.UK - Notifiable diseases in animals web page or animal health - advice and guidance.

Contact us

For Trading Standards animal health and welfare advice, please contact Trading Standards and we will be happy to help.