Foot rot, or infectious pododermatitis, is a common condition in cattle and sheep. It is also a term used incorrectly to describe all cattle lamenesses. Foot rot is a bacterial infection of the skin between the claws that results in the tissue rotting. This is an extremely painful condition.
Foot rot is caused by a bacterium known as Fusibacterium necrophorum. This bug lives everywhere, including healthy cow’s skin, respiratory tract, the ground, water bowl and even on our skin. It is able to live for many months in the soil. The bacteria are not able to penetrate through the skin by itself, as it requires some form of trauma to allow the infection to become established. Common causes of breaches in the skin include stubble fields, frozen earth, and stones. High temperatures and excessive moisture causes the skin to crack. This is one of the reasons that foot rot is such a major problem in the summer.
The appearance of foot rot is classic in its appearance. The first signs noticed are invariably moderate to severe lameness and swelling of the lower leg and foot. With foot rot, the swelling starts between the claws and moves upwards, always staying symmetrical. The skin between the claws can crack revealing yellow to grayish tissue and a typical foul odour. The claws will get pushed apart due to the swelling. The animal may refuse to eat, have a fever and lose weight due to the infection. Remember all lame feet are not necessarily foot rot and many lamenesses look very similar to foot rot.
The infection needs to be treated in a timely matter. If left untreated the infection may spread to other associated structures. These structures include the bones, tendons and joints. If these underlying structures are invaded by bacteria, therapy is very difficult and the chances of recovery are much lower.
Treatment of foot rot is straight forward and if started early enough, the success rate is high. Tetracyclines are the treatment recommended by Twin Valley Veterinary Health Services. Product examples of this drug class include Bio-mycin, Liquamycin, Oxy Vet, and Noromycin. Local treatment is rarely effective and is more difficult to do. These drugs, given in the muscle or under the skin, as the label reads, are the best and most cost effective treatment. Other drugs that will work include Excenel, Micotil and Nuflor. These three drugs are much more costly and not necessary. All label directions should be carefully followed including withdrawal times before slaughter. Recovery from foot rot takes around 2 days, if treatment is initiated early. One dose of a Tetracycline is all that is necessary in approximately 80% of the cases, with the other 20% requiring an additional dose 48 hours later. If the animal does not recover with one or two doses of a tetracycline, consult your local veterinarian immediately.
Prevention of foot rot involves taking measures to insure that damage to the feet of your cattle is minimized. Mud holes should be filled and stagnant pools drained or fenced off. Pens should be well drained and manure removed frequently to reduce the amount of muddy filth. In areas where cattle walk frequently, such as in lanes or gateways, grading or filling in low areas to provide a well-drained pathway for walking may help to prevent foot rot cases. Pouring a concrete pad around feed bunks and water troughs will help keep feet dry. Minimizing time on stubble fields will lessen the chances of injuring the skin between the claws. There are also some commercial vaccines available to help prevent foot rot in cattle. Contact your veterinarian to discuss these in detail.
If you have any questions regarding the above information or any concerns in general, please contact Twin Valley VHS at 745-6642.
Dr. Justin Noble DVM
Twin Valley Veterinary Health Services