Foot rot is a problem that costs the beef industry millions of dollars annually. According to a study conducted by the University of Nebraska, each case of foot rot costs an estimated $120 per occurrence from decreased performance, reduced value, or condemnation of the carcass and treatment costs. Although the condition is rarely fatal, it can have a dramatic impact on one's bottom line.
The most common cause of foot rot is the bacteria Fusobacterium necrophorum, an organism commonly found in the digestive tract of cattle, according to Dr. Michael Moore with Novartis Vaccines. The disease usually starts from an injury to the area between the toes that allows the organism to enter the body or from a bruise to that area giving it a chance to proliferate in the injured area.
A variety of conditions can result in foot rot, with incidences more prevalent in areas where cattle experience continual exposure to mud and manure. Prolonged dry periods with deep footprints around watering areas contribute to increased chances of injury to the foot.
Initially, the skin will become red and the area will be painful, resulting in a slight lameness. Swelling will rapidly develop causing a separation of the space between the toes and a more severe lameness. The swelling may progress higher up the foot and even to the lower leg. The area will become necrotic and "break open" rendering the characteristic foul odor. The open area leaves an excellent portal for secondary infections to enter the foot. If untreated the infection may spread to the nearby joints causing severe problems that may require more drastic measures for treatment. The pain will cause severe lameness resulting in anorexia, loss of condition, and loss of production.
When symptoms are observed, it is important to diagnose what is causing the swelling and lameness. Lacerations and foreign objects such as nails in the toe are severe and should be treated immediately and rigorously. Wire wrapped around the foot will cause similar swelling and result in severe infections and loss of the toe or toes.
When treating for foot rot, the area should be cleaned and examined for other causes. Antibiotics given at the onset of the infection is the most effective means of treatment. In severe cases, the foot may have to be wrapped to protect the area. Toe amputation may be necessary if the infection has progressed into the joint.
Cleaning pens and eliminating abrasive surfaces will aid in prevention of foot rot. Proper nutrition such as reduction of acidosis and supplementation with zinc will help to increase hoof health. Tetracyclines or organic iodides in the feed or mineral have helped in some instances, according to Moore. Immunization for Fusobacterium necrophorum can also help prevent foot rot.
By implementing a few management practices to prevent foot rot, and quick diagnosis and treatment, cattle owners can reduce the impact foot rot has on their bottom line.