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Foot rot in cattle

This bacterial infection can cause lameness if not treated early
Photo courtesy of Michigan State University

A cow that’s hobbling around might be suffering from foot rot. This happens when bacteria in the soil get into a cut in the skin between their toes, and create an infection.

Gregg Hanzlicek is a veterinarian at Kansas State University’s veterinary diagnostic laboratory. He says foot root can be caused by wet, muddy conditions softening up tissue and allowing it to split, as well as cows walking on sharp objects.

"When we see cattle out, especially after a rain in late fall or wintertime and the ground freezes, the ground becomes very hard and very sharp," says Hanzlicek. "So when those animals walk around in that frozen muddy area, they can lacerate tissue between their toes."

The first signs of foot rot are swelling and lameness, usually in one of the back legs. Hanzlicek says swelling and lameness can mean any number of ailments, so the only way to determine if it’s foot rot is by picking up the foot. There will be a split or cut between the toes, and a foul odor.

The key for treating foot rot is to catch it early.
 
"There’s a whole slug of injectable antibiotics on the market that work fantastically," says Hanzlicek. "So my recommendation is always if a producer thinks they have foot rot, if they’re able to pick up the foot and look and if they determine it is then call their veterinarian. Use their advice because not every antibiotic works in every geographical location."

If foot rot isn’t treated, it can spread into the tendons. Hanzlicek says there is no antibiotic that can cure it at that point, and you’ll likely end up with a lame animal.

Preventing foot rot includes keeping cattle out of the mud, remove rocks around the stock tank, and make sure their diet is nutritionally sound. He says the two key minerals for skin integrity are zinc and copper.

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