The wet, cold conditions that have lingered since the Christmas holidays may lead to foot problems in grazing cattle in the Panhandle, South Plains and Rolling Plains. Continuous exposure to wet conditions softens the hooves and skin between the hooves. As a result, the feet are more susceptible to mechanical injury and infectious agents that cause swelling and lameness and reduce performance.
Foot rot is one of the most common causes of lameness in cattle, but is also over-diagnosed in part because it is so common. Foot rot occurs in all ages of cattle. The first signs of foot rot are lameness and swelling between the hoof claws and evenly distributed around the hairline of the hooves. Accurate and timely diagnosis is critical to ensure positive treatment outcomes. If left untreated, foot rot can become chronic and infection may spread from the space between the hooves to deeper structures including bones and tendons, which is associated with a poor chance of recovery.
Several different bacteria that can commonly be found in the environment can cause foot rot. Weather can contribute to the ability of these bacteria to infect the foot in several ways. Prolonged exposure to wet conditions may lead to cracking of the skin between the claws, thus providing a route for bacteria to enter and infect the skin. Wet conditions also favor persistence of these bacteria in the environment and on the surface of intact skin. Recurrent freeze thaw cycles may also lead to frozen mud, which can create sharp points that traumatize the skin between the claws.
Foot rot is not the sole cause of lameness in wet conditions. Lameness may also be observed due to other infectious agents, mechanical injury due to softening of the hoof or injuries due to slippery or difficult conditions. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to recovery for all of these causes of lameness. Consult your large animal veterinarian for assistance with diagnosis and treatment programs.
Treatment and preventative measures for foot rot can include the use of injectable antibiotics and medicated feed. Several products are available that are specifically labeled for the treatment of foot rot. In addition, your veterinarian can help make specific recommendations. Importantly, for some animals with more severe lameness, treatment with an anti-inflammatory may be necessary to aid in the control of pain and discomfort.
Check with your veterinarian; at this stage in the game, there may not be adequate time to develop immunity but a vaccination may help reduce severity of disease in subsequent outbreaks.