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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Foot Rot in Cattle

Livestock Update, January 1999

Dr. W. Dee Whittier, Extension Veterinarian, Cattle, Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Tech

Foot rot in cattle is a common fall-winter disease that affects nearly all groups of cattle in Virginia. Foot rot can be a very annoying problem. Once started in a herd and "seeded" in the soil, it may persist for quite a long time. Although the incidence of foot rot may not be high at any one time, it requires constant observation to prevent serious economic loss.

A specific bacterium invades the foot to cause the disease. Cuts, bruises, puncture wounds, or severe abrasions permit these bacteria to enter the tissue of the foot where they start an infection. Foot rot can be a seasonal disease, occurring during periods of extreme moisture, sudden freezing of muddy yards, or severe drought.

The first observed sign of foot rot is lameness, which may vary from scarcely noticeable to severe in one or more feet. Foot rot may affect only one animal or a high percentage of animals in a pen or herd. Lameness caused by acute foot rot is followed by swelling of the foot, spreading of the toes and reddening of the tissue above the hoof. In severe cases, the foot will abscess above the hoof with a discharge that has a characteristic foul odor. If the infection is not stopped, it will invade the deeper tissues of the foot and may invade one or more joints, causing chronic arthritis.

Management practices that help reduce hoof damage or avoid bruising will help decrease the incidence of foot rot. Maintaining maximum drainage of lots and around water tanks to prevent mud helps reduce the incidence of foot rot. In winter when rough ground freezes around water tanks, the feet become bruised and this may lead to a higher incidence of foot rot. These areas can be smoothed with a blade or covered with straw to prevent foot damage. Mounds of soil in the feedlot help to promote drainage and give cattle a dry place to lie. Cement slabs along the feed bunks and around water tanks reduce injuries and help prevent muddy conditions in the winter. Ethylene diamine dihydriodide (EDDI, tamed iodine) mixed in the feed or salt to provide 50 milligrams per head per day has been used as a preventative measure. However, feeding EDDI has not been a very satisfactory control for foot rot. Good nutrition may be helpful in preventing foot rot. Be sure that all cattle receive adequate calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin A for good bone and tissue health. A vaccine (Volar®) is approved for the prevention of foot rot in cattle but is too expensive to be used routinely.

Research reports from Missouri indicate that when treatment was administered the first day of the disease, recovery was observed in 3 to 4 days. When the first treatment was delayed for 3 days, treatment was required again at 7 days, recovery was delayed for 10 to 12 days, and two animals required 30 to 45 days with multiple treatments to recover. Early treatment is necessary to prevent animals from developing chronic problems. Examine the feet of lame animals for foreign objects such as wires, nails, etc., and treat as soon as possible.

Penicillin, oxytetracyclines (including the long-acting products such as Liquamycin LA200®), a number of the sulfa drugs, Ceftiofur (Naxcel®) and Florfenicol (Nuflor®). When foot rot fails to respond to medication, thoroughly check the foot for foreign objects. If infection proceeds and infects the joints, arthritis may develop and claw amputation may be needed to correct the condition until the animal can be salvaged at slaughter.

In most operations foot rot is an occasional disease that does not reach a level to stimulate great concern. However, the accumulated effects can have significant economic impact. Employing preventive measures and administering timely and appropriate treatment will minimize these economic losses.

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