Footrot is generally caused by common bacteria found in the soil. The most common causes of footrot include: Fusobacterium necrophorum and Dichelobacter nodosus (more common in sheep), and Bacteroides melaninogenicus (more common in cattle). The resulting lameness will reduce mobility, weight gain and reproductive reproductive performance.
Lameness is usually the first sign of an animal infected with footrot. Signs can vary from barely noticeable limping to severe lameness in one or more feet. Lameness is typically followed by reddening of the interdigital tissue (between the hoof) and swelling of the foot, causing spreading of the toes. Swelling can extend above the hoof in the areas of the coronary band and fetlock and lead to spreading of the dewclaws. As the disease progresses, exudates between the toes with a distinct odor are typically noted. One or more feet may be affected simultaneously.
Footrot is typically diagnosed by the distinctive lesions and distinct odor. Any interdigital fissures or cracks with a characteristic odor should be treated as footrot. A bacterial culture can be done, but is rarely necessary.
The interdigital tissue should be cleaned and disinfected. Use of broad spectrum antimicrobials early in the course of the disease are usually effective. Penicillin and oxytetracycline are effective antibiotics if started early in the disease process and given at the recommended dosage. Sulfonamides work well too. If animals do not respond to treatment within three days, it may not be “just foot rot” and additional action should be taken. These animals often have joint involvement that may require more aggressive treatment.
According to Michigan State University Extension, both cattle and sheep are susceptible to this disease due to interdigital trauma. Management practices that help reduce interdigital trauma will help decrease the incidence of foot rot. Wet environmental conditions soften the interdigital space and predispose to footrot. Drainage should be maximized around water tanks and feed bunks to decrease muddy conditions.
Mounds of soil can be created in feedlots help to help promote drainage and give cattle a dry place to lie. Walk-through foot baths can be used in alleyways where cattle must walk in dairy operations. These are only effective if the feet are not muddy and the medicinal concentration and cleanliness of the bathes are maintained. Move water tanks, mineral tubs and feed to higher, drier places to reduce the frequency of cattle in muddy places. Fence off areas that may injure feet.
Anyone who has experienced a troubling outbreak of foot rot know the challenges it creates with sorting, handling and treating livestock often in summer grazing systems. Management of the environment is the best method to prevent foot rot infections. When diagnosed, administer appropriate antimicrobials at the labeled dosage level as soon as possible. Managing foot health will keep your cattle on a good foundation.