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Foot Rot in Cattle

Husbandry and minerals can help prevent foot rot; treatment options discussed.

Foot rot is an infectious disease that causes swelling, heat and inflammation, resulting in severe lameness that appears suddenly. Randall Raymond, director of research and veterinary services at Simplot in Idaho, says this disease can be caused by two different bacteria.


“These are opportunistic pathogens that require a break in the skin to enter the foot. The main one we deal with is Fusobacterium necrophorum,” he says. These bacteria are almost always present in the environment. Signs of foot rot include swelling — at the heel or between the claws — which sometimes breaks open and drains. When skin is constantly wet, it becomes softer and more easily scraped and traumatized.


“Good husbandry practices and genetic selection for foot and leg structure are key factors, along with good nutrition to keep the immune system, skin and feet healthy. A good mineral program is important. Our biggest issues are selenium, copper and zinc — all of which are needed by the immune system to function correctly. Zinc and copper are especially important to foot health,” he explains.


“One of the herds I work with in our area has used the vaccine, and the owner feels it has reduced their incidence of foot rot. They are treating only one or no cases of foot rot per year, compared with an average of about 20 per year before they started using the vaccine. It can be a good tool, but should be looked at as just one part of the total management,” he says.


“It is important to make an appropriate diagnosis. Is it truly foot rot? Swelling and lameness may be due to snakebite, puncture, sole abscess, sprain, fracture or some other injury. Restrain the animal and examine the foot — to make sure it’s not a sole abscess or a nail in the foot. It may need additional treatment and not just antibiotics,” says Raymond.


“If it is foot rot, it should be treated with the appropriate antibiotic. LA-200® (oxytetracycline) has been our traditional treatment; it has the right spectrum for these bacteria. The only downside is that we only get 48 to 72 hours of therapeutic drug levels in the animal, so it often requires a second treatment. But LA-200 is an economical and effective choice, especially if you catch it early,” he says.


“Another antibiotic I often use for foot rot is Excede®. It has a seven-day tissue level. We get a longer duration of activity with just one treatment. This is helpful when treating cattle that may be harder to access, out on pasture. It’s more expensive, so I tend to use this drug when the condition is more severe, or when I don’t think I’ll have another opportunity to treat that animal.”


In long-standing cases the infection may get into the joints and the animal may develop septic arthritis, or cellulitis. If the infection gets into the joint or tendon sheath, generally the animal has to be culled. “In seedstock animals with high individual value (and that won’t be entering the food chain), we may do joint flushes,” he adds.


If surgery must be performed in a severe case to remove a damaged claw, the animal will be impaired. “If it has high value and genetic merit, however, it could be confined. This might be the case with a valuable cow in an embryo flush program, or a bull that could be collected for AI (artificial insemination) breeding. We don’t ask them to travel like a commercial cow, but in these cases the success rates are obviously lower.”


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Editor’s Note: Heather Smith Thomas is a freelancer and cattlewoman from Salmon, Idaho.






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