Treat it fast: Foot rot in cattle
Foot rot is an infection that causes swelling, heat and inflammation between the toes of a cloven -hoofed animal, resulting in severe lameness. Nearly every cattle producer has seen this situation, finding an animal suddenly very lame.
Dr. Bill Lias, Interstate Vet Clinic, Brandon, South Dakota, says the main organism that causes foot rot is Fusobacterium necrophorum which is an anaerobe, meaning it thrives in environments without oxygen. “It usually gains entry to the foot through a nick in the skin between the two claws. This organism is found in feces, and we see more cases in muddy, wet conditions in feedlots or pastures,” he says.
If cattle have to walk through bogs or stand in mud and manure, it can set them up for foot rot. “We sometimes see more cases when it’s muddy in the fall. Then if the mud freezes, it’s rough and rutted and sharp. When cattle have to walk on frozen mud they may injure their feet and get abrasions tissue between the toes—and we see multiple cases of foot rot. This organism is ubiquitous in the environment—pretty much everywhere,” he says.
Foot rot is easy to treat, however. “It responds well to most antibiotics if treated early. People use tetracyclines, penicillin, naxcel, ceftiofur, Nuflor, or Draxxin, because they are all labeled for foot rot. People generally choose the long-lasting ones so they don’t have to treat the animal again. The best thing to do, however, is consult your veterinarian because one drug might be better than another under various circumstances,” says Lias.
In some cases you may need a veterinarian to help confirm the diagnosis because the animal may be lame (with swollen foot) for some other reason. It could be snakebite, a hoof abscess, a nail stuck in the bottom of the foot, or even a broken bone. You can’t just assume it is foot rot. “The signs of lameness could all look the same; it may take close examination to determine the cause. And if you treat the animal for foot rot and it doesn’t respond, you need to pick that foot up and get a good look to see if something else is going on.”
Local treatment can help clear up infection. “This pathogen is an anaerobe so if you can clean the lesion, scrub and debride the necrotic (dead) tissue out of that interdigital space, it will speed healing. If you can confine the animal in a chute you can get a good look at the foot and clean it out,” he says.
If the animal is not treated in a timely fashion, long-standing cases or ones that are difficult to clear up sometimes spread into surrounding tissues and may get into the tendon sheath or the joint in the foot, or into the bone. “Those advanced infections are challenging to deal with. Sometimes we have to amputate one claw (on one side) as a salvage strategy, to get it healed enough to sell or butcher that animal. A lame animal won’t eat well, and can’t maintain weight, let alone gain back what was lost,” says Lias.
Foot rot is somewhat contagious because the bacteria can be spread around if the lesion between the toes breaks open and drains. This increases the number of pathogens in that immediate environment. If one animal in the group gets foot rot it’s a good idea to isolate it during treatment and recovery.
Some producers wonder if there might be a connection between flies and spread of foot rot (flies landing on the draining lesion and carrying bacteria to other cattle). “I am not aware of any studies indicating that insects have been shown to be a significant vector, but it is a plausible theory,” Lias says.
“To prevent foot rot, it pays to do things that keep cattle from continually standing in one muddy, nasty spot. Move hay feeders and mineral feeders to clean areas. In feedlots make mounds so cattle can get up out of the mud and stand on higher ground during rainy, wet conditions,” he says.
Some cattle may be more prone to foot rot than others, depending on individual immunities and hoof health. Some animals have more stress on the feet and more risk for problems. “If the hoof is too long (needs trimming), this can be a factor. Healthy feet and skin are important, so nutrition plays a role. Trace minerals like zinc are crucial for immunity. Research many years ago demonstrated that adequate amounts of zinc in the ration seemed to minimize the number of foot rot cases. A good mineral program aids general hoof health and immunity.”
“There is a vaccine called Fusogard, made by Elanco. I don’t have experience with it, but it is reported in some situations to be an effective control for foot rot as well as liver abscesses,” says Lias.
Jack Holden, Holden Herefords, Valier, Montana, says vaccinated for foot rot at one time.
“Over the years, the best preventative we’ve found is a good mineral program that includes high levels of copper, zinc and iodine, the trace minerals important for hoof health. If we don’t have it in front of them all the time, we start to see higher incidence of foot rot,” he says.
“We grow a lot of sainfoin/grass mixed hay, and sainfoin stubble is sharp. When we turn cattle out on regrowth after haying, they may get pokes and nicks that allow the organism to get through the skin. We graze a lot of that during August and September and might see some foot rot cases,” says Holden.
“For treatment, we still have good luck with oxytetracycline. The newer high-tech antibiotics like Draxxin will knock it, too, but in terms of treatment costs, the LA-200 or LA-300 is still the cheapest. If you can treat early, it only takes one treatment with oxytetracycline. If the foot is starting to break open between the toes, we also use local treatment and spray a little Coppertox on that area,” he says.
Jon and Breezy Millar raise registered Angus near Sturgis, South Dakota and Jon says a good mineral program is crucial for preventing foot rot. “We’ve used medicated mineral in the past, and iodized mineral, to help with prevention,” he says.
“For treatment we may give sulfa pills, penicillin, or LA-300, and put Coppertox on the foot, between the toes where it’s breaking out.” Millar said he treats the animal in the corral when feasible. Otherwise he ropes and doctors the animal or uses a dart gun.
“Last summer was so dry that we only had one case of foot rot, but this summer has been wet and we’ve had more foot rot. We’ve also had a lot more flies this summer, and we’re wondering if there is any correlation between the flies and the foot rot. The cattle may be stomping their feet more, fighting flies,” he says.
“If we don’t see the animal right away we might have to use more aggressive treatment, bringing them to the corral and giving antibiotics for 5 or 6 days. If LA-200 or LA-300 doesn’t knock it, I’ll switch to Nuflor and that seems to work well—along with putting Coppertox on the foot every day,” he says.