Foot rot is an infectious condition that causes swelling, heat and inflammation in cattle’s feet, resulting in severe lameness. Swelling and lameness can appear suddenly, with the animal walking normally one day but limping the next day. Lame cattle can lose weight quickly if they’re reluctant to travel to feed and water. Dustin Loy, veterinary diagnostic microbiologist in the University of Nebraska’s Veterinary Diagnostic Center, says the microbes associated with foot rot are mainly anaerobes, meaning they thrive in an environment without oxygen. The most common is Fusobacterium necrophorum. We usually find one or more of several other anaerobic bacteria associated with it, including Prevotella and Porphyromonas. They’re all gram-negative anaerobes. We often find one that used to be called Arcano-bacterium pyogenes and is now called Truperella pyogenes. It forms pus and helps induce the anaerobic environment for other bacteria by reducing oxygen in the tissues,” he explains.
Andrew Niehaus, Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, says the anaerobic bacteria are symbiotic. “One of them enters the break in the skin, and another comes along and helps perpetuate the infection,” he says. The bacteria multiply and further damage and destroy tissue, which leads to more anaerobic conditions as the tissue dies, which further facilitates the infection. Many of these bacteria are normally found in feces. “The animals are always exposed to them, so there must be a predisposing factor such as a break in the skin in the space between the toes,” Loy adds.
Foot rot is a sub-acute or acute necrotic (decaying) infectious disease of cattle, causing swelling and lameness in at least one foot. This disease can cause severe lameness and decreased weight gain or milk production. A three-year study reported that affected steers gained 2.3 pounds per day, while steers not affected gained 2.76 pounds per day (Brazzle. 1993). Lame bulls and females will be reluctant to breed. If treatment is delayed, deeper structures of the foot may become affected, leading to chronic disease and a poor recovery prognosis. Severely affected animals may need to be culled from the herd. The incidence of foot rot varies according to the weather, season of the year, grazing periods and housing system. Foot rot is usually random in occurrence, but the disease incidence may increase up to 25 percent in high-intensity beef or dairy production units. Approximately 20 percent of all diagnosed lameness in cattle is actually foot rot.
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Foot rot is easy to treat, however. “It responds well to most antibiotics if treated early. People use tetracyclines, penicillin, naxcel, ceftiofur, Nuflor, or Draxxin, because they are all labeled for foot rot. People generally choose the long-lasting ones so they don’t have to treat the animal again. The best thing to do, however, is consult your veterinarian because one drug might be better than another under various circumstances,” says Lias.
In some cases you may need a veterinarian to help confirm the diagnosis because the animal may be lame (with swollen foot) for some other reason. It could be snakebite, a hoof abscess, a nail stuck in the bottom of the foot, or even a broken bone. You can’t just assume it is foot rot. “The signs of lameness could all look the same; it may take close examination to determine the cause. And if you treat the animal for foot rot and it doesn’t respond, you need to pick that foot up and get a good look to see if something else is going on.”
Symptoms of foot rot in Cattle
- Extreme pain, leading to the sudden onset of lameness
- Elevated body temperature
- Bilateral swelling of the interdigital tissues, around the hairline and coronary band of the hoof. The swelling may lead to greater-than-normal separation of the claws
- Necrotic lesions in the interdigital space, with a foul odor
- Decreased feed intake
These symptoms can be similar to the symptoms of other foot issues that are common in beef cattle. For example, digital dermatitis, commonly referred to as hairy heel wart, is often mistaken for foot rot when cattle become lame (Step et al., 2016). However, digital dermatitis only affects the skin in the heel bulb area and up to the area of the dew-claw. Digital dermatitis also does not produce a foul odor, is more centralized and is contagious.
- Environmental hygiene is a key component in preventing foot rot:
- Keep lots free of hard objects such as stones, bricks, machinery, or anything that could bruise or cut the soft tissue of the foot.
- Minimize abrasive surfaces, especially around feeding and watering areas. Cover rough surfaces with clay or cured, composted manure.
- Remove manure regularly.
- Put slabs along water tanks and feed bunks.
- Promote drainage by using mounds of soil or composted manure.
- Maintain maximum drainage of lots and around water tanks, feed bunks, and other busy traffic areas
- Good nutrition with adequate levels of Vitamin A, D and zinc.
- preventing bruising during the harsh winter months by keeping lots clear of ice chunks and frozen manure
- ensuring that cattle receive adequate nutrients for good bone and tissue health
- isolating sick animals
- Management should also include regular herd checks focused on early detection. You can’t expect antibiotics to work if the infection is seeded and going up the leg. On the other hand, if cattle are being managed and pulled in a timely fashion, most cases can be treated successfully.
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