Watch your step: Recognizing common bovine hoof diseases

Author: Kristy

Shelby Alyssa Mettlen, Kansas State University Extension   |  Updated: 06/12/2014

Warmer weather and wet conditions can create the perfect environment for lameness-inducing bacterial infections in cattle. Gregg Hanzlicek, veterinarian with Kansas State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, shares his tips for preventing, identifying and treating two hoof diseases. 

Foot rot

With a reputation for causing headaches for producers in the livestock industry, foot rot accounts for most cases of lameness in pastured cattle. The infection is caused by bacteria present in the rumen of healthy cattle and found naturally in the soil.

“We can sample cows and calves without foot rot, take a swab of their feet, and we are going to find these bacteria,” Hanzlicek said. “They’re everywhere.”

If the skin’s integrity is there, these bacteria cause no problems, he said. So for cattle to develop foot rot, the skin must be broken. Most producers have likely dealt with foot rot at some point on their operations.

“It’s probably not a big deal if we have a cow or two with foot rot, but if we have a bull out there that’s lame with foot rot, we know our breeding efficiency is likely to go down,” Hanzlicek said.

During the summer heat, cattle are often found standing on muddy pond banks, which can weaken the integrity of the skin and allow for infection. Worse yet, foot rot isn’t limited to wet conditions—the infection can become a problem in just about any environment.

“Extremely dry conditions that let the skin crack can bring on foot rot,” Hanzlicek said. “Sharp rocks, corn stubble later on in the fall and even frozen ground as we get into the wintertime can bring on foot rot.”

The first signs of foot rot are subtle swelling and lameness, and it can be hard for producers to spot.

“Early on in the disease it’s symmetrical, meaning the entire area above the hoof wall will be swollen,” Hanzlicek said.

He added that leaving the condition untreated could compromise treatment later on: “It will advance into more chronic stages where the tendons and the tendon sheath within those feet will become infected.”

The key to successfully treating foot rot is catching it early, Hanzlicek said. Producers should remember that if they have a lame cow or bull, and the lameness is in the foot, foot rot is a likely culprit.

When it comes to treatment of foot rot, Hanzlicek said there are several options.

“There’s several good injectable antibiotics labeled for cattle, for foot rot,” he said. If producers choose to use a product not labeled for foot rot, a veterinarian’s prescription is required. READ MORE

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