Foot rot, commonly caused by bacteria called Fusobacterium necrophorum or Bacteroides melaninogenicus, is a major cause of lameness in the cattle industry. This infectious disease can have a significant economic impact on animal health and performance. The bacteria that cause foot rot are normally found on the skin and in the feces of healthy animals. Anything that causes a compromise in skin integrity allows the bacteria to gain access to deeper tissue. Environmental conditions that predispose cattle to foot rot include, consistently wet and muddy pastures, pens heavily contaminated with urine and feces, or increased humidity in general. We commonly see an increase in foot rot cases during the winter months in the southeast due to prolonged wet conditions combined with occasional freezing hard ground or ice. This leads to softening and abrasion of the interdigital skin, which is the perfect combination for foot rot development.
Typical signs of foot rot include, sudden onset of severe lameness in one or multiple feet, swelling and redness around the coronary band and interdigital space, and reluctance to stand or walk long distances. Once foot rot is suspected, the animal should be placed in a chute for treatment. It is important to make sure the lameness is due to foot rot prior to treatment. This can be done by lifting the leg with a rope and inspecting the foot, specifically the interdigital space. The animal will be painful on palpation of the interdigital space, and a foul-smelling discharge will often times be noted.
Foot rot in cattle is easily treated if treatment is initiated early in the disease process. Ideal treatment should include cleaning the foot and trying to debride as much dead tissue as possible. This can be done by lifting the left with a rope and flossing between the claws with betadine-soaked gauze. There are multiple antimicrobials that are labeled to treat foot rot in cattle. Some examples include: tetracyclines (LA 200, Biomycin), ceftiofurs (Excede, Naxcel, Excenel), florfenicol (Nuflor), and tulathromyacin (Draxxin). Tetracycline can be bought over the counter, and producers typically have these antimicrobials on hand. Typically, one dose of a long-acting tetracycline, such as LA 200, is effective in treating foot rot. Other antibiotics, such as Excede, Nuflor, or Draxxin, require a prescription and consultation with a veterinarian.
Severe foot rot, if left untreated, can lead to infection and destruction of deeper tissues within the foot. Once an animal has been treated once with an antibiotic, an effort should be made to keep the animal in a clean, dry area if possible. If the lameness does not improve within 2-3 days of treatment, the animal should be seen by a veterinarian for further treatment. It is important to not give multiple doses of different antibiotics if the lameness does not improve in 2-3 days. There are many other causes of severe lameness in cattle, such as a fracture, puncture, abscess, or an infected joint. These are conditions that need prompt treatment by a veterinarian.