Foot Rot In Beef Cattle

US - While foot rot in cattle is not typically a fatal disease, it can really affect producers' bottom line, says Connie Larson, research nutritionist at Zinpro Corporation in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
calendar icon 21 December 2009
clock icon 6 minute read

“Studies have shown that animals with foot rot don't perform as well,” she said. “Anytime an animal has a disease or immune challenge, a large portion of the energy is going to be shifted away from production to support the immune system. Immunity has a very high energy demand when animals are sick.”

According to The Prairie Star, foot rot causes beef cattle to lose weight, have lower gain and experience other production problems. Reproduction success is also lowered.

Because treatment can also be expensive, between $70 to $93 per case, Ms Larson said most producers should approach the problem from a prevention standpoint.

Foot rot is caused by fusobacterium necrophorum, which is a bacteria often present in the soil and in other environmental situations, she said.

Rachel Endecott, MSU Extension beef cattle specialist at USDA-ARS Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory in Miles City, Montreal said there is some debate as to how long the bacteria can survive in the environment. One to 10 months has been proposed, she commented.

She said that foot rot often occurs during times of wet or muddy conditions.

That may be, in part, because the moisture softens the skin between a cow's toes or claws. Once the skin has been softened, an injury can cause an abrasive opening to the skin and allow the bacteria to enter.

“It doesn't take long either,” Ms Endecott said. “I've gone out one day and the animal has been fine and come back the next day to find him suffering from foot rot.”

Ms Larson said it doesn't take much of an injury to introduce the bacteria to the system.

“You don't need a cut, even a small scratch can allow bacteria to infect the foot,” she said.

Once the bacterium is in the system, it causes painful swelling between the toes and the animal goes lame.

Other times that foot rot seems to become a problem is when the ground freezes hard. That makes walking difficult for the cattle and the skin between the claws is more prone to being injured on the sharp, frozen surfaces.

“Another time we will see an increase in incidences is when cattle have been out on stubble fields, then are brought into a feedlot situations. The sharp stubble can create abrasions on the skin between the claws,” Ms Larson told The Prairie Star.

She added the bacteria can be in the soil for a long time and the cattle can come back in contact with it.

“It can be an inherent problem in certain areas,” she added.

Ms Larson recommends producers watch for areas or seasons when they see outbreaks of foot rot among their herd. If they can spot a pattern, they can take necessary steps to reduce the chances of infection among their cattle. “The skin if the first line of defense. It acts as a barrier. Anything that can create an opening or break in that barrier allows the bacteria to enter,” Ms Larson said.

For that reason producers can look at improving skin integrity in their herd. Keeping areas dry is important.

Ms Endecott said producers should make sure that the areas where cattle drink water is well-drained, and corrals should be well-drained as well.

Raising the ground level or cutting channels to carry away runoff are also simple steps producers can take to help keep high-traffic areas dry, she said.

While foot rot is not contagious like a respiratory disease, the bacteria can shed onto the ground and lie dormant there, waiting for the next passing cow.

If its skin integrity has been compromised by moisture, and scraped or scratched by stubble, frozen ground or even a rock, the bacteria could also infect that cow, as well.

The key is keeping the skin and immune system of the animal healthy, she said.

“These animals are already equipped with their own immune system,” Ms Endecott said. “We need to make sure the immune system can do its best to protect the animal.”

Good nutrition plays a large role in fighting foot rot. Two vital micronutrients in the battle against foot rot are zinc and iodine, she said.

Zinc is a trace mineral that can be very effective for decreasing the incidence of foot rot in the beef herd, is important for skin integrity and gives the animal the best first line of defense and also improves other immune responses needed in the case of bacterial infection, Ms Larson said.

“Zinc deficiency weakens the skin and causes cracks in the hoof wall and coronary band of the animal, Ms Larson noted. “It also reduces productivity and reproduction as well as lessens the immune system, causing an increased risk of infection. If a cow already has foot rot, zinc helps it fight the infection and recover from it.”

It is important take a look at the source of zinc, such as Zinpro zinc methionine complex, as well, she added.

“We want to be sure it can be readily absorbed by the animals,” Ms Larson said. Zinc bound to an amino acid provided improved absorption of the mineral. “Producers who are looking at their nutrition programme should ask their feed dealer or look at the feed tag.”

Under the list of ingredients, they should check to see if zinc methionine complex is included.

The other important micronutrient is iodine, Ms Larson said.

She said that a specific form of iodine, known as EDDI, can be fed to animals and has shown to be effective in decreasing foot rot.

Iodine is also important in preventing goiter, reproductive failure, mastitis, weak offspring, reduced milk yield, abnormal respiration rates, and low growth rates, she added.

Since too much iodine in the diet can cause problems and even death, the government has placed limitations on how much to feed to cattle.

“These minerals do more than just decrease the risk of foot rot. Many have several other important functions including improving gains, feed efficiency and reproduction,” said Ms Larson.

Making sure animals are receiving the right amount of trace minerals is important to herd health and productivity, she said.

“Producers may take a look at strategic use of mineral supplementation to minimise the cost,” Ms Larson said.

That is why it is good to recognise any seasonal occurrences of foot rot based on the environment or location, she said.

At least 60 days prior to the start of an anticipated seasonal foot rot outbreak, producers can make sure they provide a good mineral supplement for the cattle. Supplementation should ideally continue throughout the foot rot season, she added.

If foot rot is detected, producers can take steps to prevent worsening, Ms Endecott said. The hoof should be cleaned and treated topically with a spray of iodine, she said. If the hoof needs to be trimmed, that should be taken care of at this time. That will allow the cow to walk normally and reduce the risk of injury. The animal should also be treated with an antibiotic, usually an injectible, she added.

“You should try to catch it and treat it early,” Ms Endecott said. Early treatment is less costly, she said, in terms of medicine and lost production.

Ms Larson agreed, saying, “Anytime you can reduce the health challenges, the performance is better.”

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