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Manage Foot Rot to Protect Cattle Herd Performance

NEW YORK (August 28, 2009) — Producers who recognize foot rot and develop strategies to prevent and treat it can successfully protect their cattle herd’s performance. Causing an estimated 75 percent of all lameness diagnosed in beef cattle, foot rot, or interdigital dermatitis, can be detrimental to the health of a herd and profits of an operation.

Lameness and swelling related to foot rot threatens performance by causing cattle to reduce feed consumption, ultimately resulting in reduced weight gain. In addition, cows affected by foot rot may not get the nutrition they need to produce sufficient milk for nursing calves, and affected bulls are less likely to breed cows during breeding season.

Conditions for foot rot

Foot rot is a bacterial infection in the skin and subcutaneous tissue between the toes of the foot that can extend into tendons, ligaments, joints and foot bones. The bacteria that cause foot rot—including Fusobacterium necrophorum and Porphyromonas levii—are common in the environment, but need the right conditions to grow and cause disease. A break in the skin or a laceration is required for the entry of the bacteria that can cause infection.

“Damp conditions predispose the feet of cattle to damage and infection, making it important to watch for foot rot during wet times of the year, or in areas where there is a buildup of mud and/or manure,” explained Gordon Brumbaugh, DVM, PhD, DACVCP, DACVIM, anti-infectives specialist with Pfizer Animal Health. “It is difficult to totally eliminate rocks, gravel, forage, or ice from pastures or corrals but it is important to recognize that these, or other sharp surfaces, can cut the skin between the toes of the foot and allow bacteria to invade and cause an infection. Vigilance to remove those can help control foot rot.”

Technically, foot rot is not contagious, but chances are good that if one animal develops foot rot, the conditions are right for more animals in the herd to become infected. Also, discharge from the wounds of infected animals may seed the ground with infection-causing bacteria.

Preventing and managing foot rot

Effective strategies for prevention and treatment are important in managing foot rot because of the potential for lameness—the primary and most obvious sign of foot rot. Swelling and lameness can come on suddenly, becoming so painful that cattle lie down and refuse to stand or eat. According to one study, steers with lameness related to foot rot gained 0.45 pounds less per day compared to non-infected animals.2

After a proper diagnosis is made with the help of your veterinarian, Brumbaugh recommended starting treatment. Although some very mild cases may respond to cleaning and topical therapy, most cases require the use of systemic anti-infective therapy.

“Extended therapy products can help reduce or limit disease-causing bacteria for a longer period of time and allow the animal’s immune system more time to overcome the effects of the bacteria,” Brumbaugh added. “And to help limit recovery time, affected animals should be kept in dry areas, if possible, until healed.”

Managing this condition starts even before cattle are infected. “By taking the precautions to limit bacterial growth in the surrounding environment, you can save time and money and keep your herd as healthy as possible,” Brumbaugh said.

Research shows up to 15 percent of a herd could become affected by foot rot in the right conditions; therefore, recognizing situations that are conducive to infection is the first step in prevention. Although not fatal, if the infection spreads to an animal’s joints and causes severe lameness, the disease can result in an animal needing more extensive treatment or culling.3

Foot rot management not only includes treating affected cattle with trusted anti-infectives, but also taking steps towards prevention. According to the Beef Cattle Handbook, from the University of Wisconsin, follow these recommendations to help prevent foot rot.3

• Keep cattle yards clean and free of sharp objects like stones, glass or rough ground.

• Cover frozen ground with straw.

• Thoroughly clean pens and spread lime after cattle are removed.

• Ensure cattle yards have adequate drainage.

• Create a dry area for cattle to stand with mounds of soil, bedding or concrete slabs.

• Use concrete in areas where cattle congregate, like around water fountains and feed bunks.

• Spread lime with 5 to 10 percent added copper sulfate around watering units and feed bunks.

• Consider the use of walk-through foot baths.

• Provide good nutrition, including phosphorus, vitamins A and D, and zinc.

“Because the organisms that cause foot rot are found everywhere, the best way to prevent the disease is to promote hoof health,” Brumbaugh encouraged. “Then watch for signs of the disease, recognize the condition early and treat according to your veterinarian’s recommendations.”

Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE), the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company, is a world leader in discovering and developing innovative animal vaccines and prescription medicines. Pfizer Animal Health is dedicated to improving the safety, quality and productivity of the world’s food supply by enhancing the health of livestock and poultry; and in helping companion animals live longer and healthier lives. For additional information on Pfizer Animal Health’s portfolio of animal products, visit