Foot rot

From Cow
Interdigital pododermatitis in a cow
Interdigital dermatitis, anterior view
Severe interdigital dermatitis

Bovine foot rot (Pododermatitis) is an inflammatory condition of the bovine hoof which results in lameness of cattle.

Foot rot is a leading cause of economic loss in dairy and beef cattle as well as suffering to individual cattle[1].


Inflammatory causes (e.g. trauma, dirt, wetness) results in activation of matrix metalloproteinase within the hoof that leads to sinking of the claw. This causes a secondary contamination[2].

Contributing bacteria include:

Secondary fungal infections also occur, especially with Chrysosporium spp.

Iatrogenic causes are also involved, especially when inexperienced claw trimmers remove too much horn from beneath the heel, resulting in abnormal pressure on the dermis. Excessive wear of the softened sole horn flattens and thins the sole.

Heel erosion is another potential contributing cause of a sole ulcer. Normally, weight is borne by the bulb of the heel, but if heel erosion occurs, weight-bearing may be transferred forward to the region beneath the flexor process. Sometimes, a displaced pad of horn slips over to the vulnerable area, causing abnormal pressure over the flexor process of the distal phalanx.

Clinical signs

Affected cattle often present initially with lameness, and observation of the hoof reveals interdigital swelling, ulceration, lameness and a foul-smell[4].

Either one or all four legs may be involved, although hind claw infections predominate in heavy dairy cattle. In some herds up to 50% of mature cows can be affected[5].


Treatment must be aimed at therapeutic claw trimming. Easy-to-apply plastic slippers are commonly used in dairy herd situations.

Broad spectrum antibiotics are usually indicated including penicillins, enrofloxacin and ceftiofur[6].

Some ulcers never fully resolve, and affected cows may have chronic low-grade lameness.


  1. Bruijnis MR et al (2012) Assessing the welfare impact of foot disorders in dairy cattle by a modeling approach. Animal 6(6):962-970
  2. Nazifi S et al (2012) Acute phase response in lame cattle with interdigital dermatitis. World J Microbiol Biotechnol 28(4):1791-1796
  3. Moe KK et al (2010) Detection of antibodies against Fusobacterium necrophorum and Porphyromonas levii-like species in dairy cattle with papillomatous digital dermatitis. Microbiol Immunol 54(6):338-346
  4. Ettema J et al (2010) Modelling the economic impact of three lameness causing diseases using herd and cow level evidence. Prev Vet Med 95(1-2):64-73
  5. Merck Vet Manual
  6. Desrochers A et al (2008) Surgical diseases and techniques of the digit. Vet Clin North Am Food Anim Pract 24(3):535-550