Ask the Vet

Steer Clear of Foot Rot

Foot rot in cattle can result from a long drought, followed by wet conditions. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Victoria G. Myers)

QUESTION: I started feeding my herd range meal in July after eight weeks of drought. Shortly after, we had two hurricanes and 13 inches of rain. About 10 of my 38 cows came down with sore feet and swollen ankles. When we gave each cow an injection of LA-200, the problem went away. Is this weather-related or something to do with the range meal?

ANSWER: I doubt the feed has anything to do with your problem. This really sounds like a classic case of foot rot. The feet get hard, dry and cracked in a drought; then the rains come and the tissue of the feet softens.

The bacteria (Fusobacterium necrophorum and Bacteroides melaninogenicus) that cause foot rot are always present in the soil. They take advantage of the weakened feet and set up infection. Fortunately, the bacteria are sensitive to many antibiotics, and early treatment with long-acting antibiotics will cure most cases.

I would recommend having your veterinarian check any case that does not quickly respond to your initial treatment. Waiting too long can allow the infection to get into the joints, creating a much more serious problem that may not be curable.

Prevention of foot rot should focus on limiting exposure to muddy areas for extended periods of time and minimizing contact with rough, rocky areas or coarse, cutover land -- especially in the warmer times of the year. Good nutrition is especially important.

Do not allow cattle to get too fat, and avoid any sudden changes in nutritional levels. A complete, balanced mineral supplement assuring proper levels of copper and selenium can be very important in preventing problems. Many people have reported that feeding organic iodine (ethylenediamine dihydriodide [EDDI] or zinc methionine [Zinpro]) can help prevent foot rot.

Foot baths can be used to prevent foot rot, but in my opinion they are not very effective. Foot baths are a real pain to do correctly and the common chemicals used in them (2% formalin or 5% copper sulfate) can be dangerous to cattle, people and the environment.