Foot Rot

September 2003
Jim Selph - DeSoto County Extension, Director/Livestock Agent

If you have ever had any cattle with severe cases of Foot Rot you know what a problem it can be. The term identifies a variety of conditions that can affect the bovine foot. It will most often show up when cattle have been subjected to a poorly drained and muddy area. Sometimes it might be an individual cow, but it can also affect as much as 80% of a herd.

Most cases are caused by two types of bacterial organisms: Fusobacterium necrophorum or Spherophorus necrophorus. These organisms are widespread in the natural environment. Yeast and molds are also thought to be a contributing factor along with another bacterium which is accompanied by spirochetes.

The signs of Foot Rot in cattle include lameness, reluctance to move, the holding or raising of a foot, impaired locomotion, weight loss, and with lactating cows a reduction of milk production. This type of problem can be very significant if your herd bulls are infected. A bull that has the above described problem is not going to be successfully able to mount and breed cows. Severe illness or death can occur in cases that are long term infections. Once the infection takes hold, inflammation and tissue death will result in severe swelling and extreme pain. Usually the reddened swelling will be most evident between the hoof and the bulb of the heels. A real tale tell sign of foot rot can be a smelly discharge from tracts that open into the interdigital space or around the hoof. Once you have smelled that odor once, you will not mistake it next time.

With valuable cattle and bulls, it may be cost effective to regularly trim hooves to prevent foot diseases and injuries. At dairies this is done often on a routine basis, but is not practiced with beef cattle very often except show cattle and expensive bulls. Organic iodide in salt and chlortetracycline in feed have been used to reduce the incidence of foot rot in beef cattle. Experimental data with the organic iodide to support its use is minimal at best.

Your local veterinarian should examine any animals for clinical signs to be sure that other conditions such as founder or injuries are not involved. You will also want to check with the veterinarian for specific treatment recommendations.

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