Foot Rot in Beef Cattle

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In recent weeks, several producers have called with questions about treating foot rot in beef cattle. Those calls, in turn brought up questions about the cause and treatment, and in general, why am I having it in my herd?

Foot rot is an infectious disease in cattle that results in swelling, and varying degrees of lameness in cattle. It is a painful condition that results in difficulty walking and getting up and down, and left untreated can be quite costly to the cattle producer.

The causative bacterium of foot rot is Fusobacterium necrophorum, however other bacterial agents seem to contribute as well. These bacteria cannot penetrate healthy, intact skin, so they invade the interdigital (between the toes) through continually wet skin or through abrasions from rocks, stubble or frozen or dried mud that cattle are exposed to.

Foot rot can occur anytime of year but is usually more prevalent when pastures are wet or muddy. Periods of high moisture tend to create favorable conditions for foot rot occurrence. All ages are vulnerable, but it occurs most commonly in cattle that are weaning age or older. Infection rate can vary from a few animals in the herd, up to 25% of the herd affected.

Usually, the first sign of foot rot is sudden lameness in an older cow, affecting one or more feet, with noticeable swelling between the toes. Typically this swelling creates noticeable separation between the toes. The infection will usually be characterized by a foul odor emanating from the area of infection between the toes. Usually the animal will hold up the affected foot and be reluctant to put any weight on it. Many times they will have a reduced appetite, be reluctant to graze or come to feed and may exhibit a low-grade fever. Left untreated the condition can lead to chronic arthritis. When checking for foot rot producers should rule out punctures from nails, wire or other hardware, heel warts, corns or abscesses or fractures all of which can cause similar symptoms.

As with any infective condition, producers should consult their veterinarian for treatment options. Historically, early treatments with antibiotics have been successful. Procaine penicillin G, oxytetracyclines and sulfa drugs are typically used. Many of the newer antimicrobials are approved for foot rot and can be highly effective. Antiseptic dressings can be used but are often not practical in production situations. In severe cases tendons, joints and bones can be compromised and more drastic measures have to be taken.

The key to preventing foot rot from affecting your herd is without a doubt, environmental hygiene. What is that? You ask. Make your farm conducive for your cattle. Minimize cut or abrasion-causing objects, especially around feeding areas and waterers. Old farm machinery, gates, scrap metal or old tin should be stored out side of the fence. Concrete or geo-textile gravel pads around drinkers and feeders can minimize muddy conditions where cattle often gather. Make sure lots are well drained and use mounds of soil or composted manure to make sure cattle can find higher ground that is dry to lie down.

If you can implement these basic management practices on your farm, you can minimize your cattle’s risk of getting foot rot. In wet years like 2013, there may not be anything you can do, so recognize the symptoms, and apply early treatment, and you should be successful in the battle against foot rot.

Written By

Photo of Damon PollardDamon PollardExtension Agent, Agriculture - Livestock and Field Crops, Forestry (828) 439-4460 damon_pollard@ncsu.eduBurke County, North Carolina
Posted on Aug 22, 2013
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