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Dairy Today Healthline

Spring Moisture Provokes Unwanted Footrot

Apr 21, 2014

What to watch for in a common bacterial infection that can cripple performance in dairy cows.

Moore, Mike

By Dr. Mike Moore, professional services veterinarian, Novartis Animal Health

April showers may bring May flowers, but spring rain and melting snow can also bring an uninvited, crippling consequence for many dairy producers—the onset of footrot.

Footrot is a year-round threat, but the disease peaks in spring and fall when moist conditions prevail. The bacteria that cause footrot tend to thrive in conditions that are prevalent on many dairies, including damp concrete floors in freestall barns and milking parlors, and wet or muddy alleys.

When cattle walk on rough, frozen ground or muddy surfaces that have dried and hardened into uneven terrain, the skin tissue between the claws is more likely to be bruised or torn. With an abrasion, the possibility of bacteria entering increases; however, an abrasion is not required for the infection to enter the system. Simple bruising provides opportunity for the bacteria to proliferate and cause infection.

Early Diagnosis Critical to Treatment

Dairy producers should carefully watch for initial signs of footrot since early diagnosis and treatment is crucial for the best response. Lameness in either front or back feet often signals the possibility of footrot, and can be followed by reddening of the interdigital space, swelling of the foot or the often characteristic foul odor. If lameness is observed, dairymen should lift the foot and inspect for lesions, puncture wounds or abscesses. Footrot is sometimes confused with hairy heel warts which appear on the back of the heel bulb, but footrot will surface between the claws.

Footrot Prevention is Sound Management

Once footrot strikes a herd, it can be difficult to control but actions can be taken to reduce the risk. A preventative vaccine for footrot is a cost-effective option to reduce the incidence of footrot. Cattle older than six months of age can be vaccinated to prevent infection by Fusobacterium necrophorum, a bacterial organism that causes footrot. Cows should be revaccinated three weeks later to boost results.

F. necrophorum is commonly found in the digestive tract of cows, creating a risk for diet-related footrot. Dairy cattle that are fed a hot, high-concentrate ration can get ruminal acidosis which erodes the rumen wall, providing opportunity for the bacteria to flourish. A nutritionist can help you balance your herd’s diet and add vitamins and minerals to help prevent footrot.

Maintaining a clean, dry environment along with low-stress handling procedures are also sound management tactics to avoid jeopardizing the integrity of the hoof. Techniques such as manure management, providing good drainage around water tanks and avoiding overcrowding can curtail the risk of footrot proliferation. If you have known issues with footrot, it’s wise to set up medicated foot baths to wash the feet of animals when entering or leaving a barn. Preventing the contagious disease saves time, money and labor rather than waiting to treat footrot.

Economic losses from treating footrot start at $90 per case1 but can be much more. Losses can be seen in decreased milk production, dry matter intake, reproductive efficiency, body weight and longevity.1

Footrot prevention shouldn’t be saved for a rainy day. Take time to talk to your veterinarian to discuss a sound footrot protocol for your operation. Click here for more information about footrot and scroll to the "Learn More" section.

1 Ishler V, et al. Prevention and Control of Foot Problems in Dairy Cows. Pennsylvania State University. Available at: http://www.extension.org/pages/11201/prevention-and-control-of-foot-problems-in-dairy-cows#.UyHiLz9dWAg. Accessed March 13, 2014.

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