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Veterinarian reminds producers to be aware of foot rot in wet conditions

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Foot rot is an infection which causes swelling, heat and inflammation in the foot, resulting in severe lameness. The swelling and lameness seem to appear suddenly.   

Dr. Bill Lias of Interstate Vet Clinic in Brandon, S.D. says the main organism causing foot rot is Fusobacterium necrophorum, which thrives without oxygen.  

“If it gains entry to the foot, usually through a nick in the skin between the two claws, it causes infection and swelling. This organism is found in manure, and most cases are seen as a result of muddy, wet conditions in feedlots, corrals or pastures,” he says.   

If cattle must walk through bogs or stand in mud and manure, they are vulnerable. If the skin between their claws is wet it becomes soft, and therefore more easily nicked or scraped.   

Lias notes foot rot is most often a concern in the spring and fall, or whenever there is excessive mud. However, he notes, F. necrophorum is always in the environment. 


The good news for producers is foot rot is easy to treat.   

“It responds well to most antibiotics if treated early,” says Lias. “Producers can use tetracyclines, penicillin, naxcel, ceftiofur, Nuflor or Draxxin to treat foot rot because these are all labeled for treating the ailment.” 

He continues, “Most producers generally choose the long-lasting ones so they don’t have to treat the animal again. Producers should consult with a veterinarian because one drug might be better than another for certain cattle under various circumstances.” 

In some cases, producers may need a veterinarian to help confirm the diagnosis because the animal may be lame, with swollen feet, for some other reason than foot rot and won’t respond to antibiotic treatment. The pain and swelling could be caused by snakebite, a hoof abscess, a nail stuck in the bottom of the foot or even a broken bone.   

“There could be a nail or wire in there, or some other kind of injury,” Lias adds. “The signs of lameness can all look the same, and it may take closer examination to determine the cause.” 

“If an animal is treated for foot rot and it doesn’t respond, producers may need to pick the foot up and get a good look to see if something else is going on there,” he shares, noting holding the foot with a rope is handy if the animal is in a chute.  

If it is foot rot, Lias recommends producers take time to clean the affected area, as local treatment can help clear up the infection.   

“If producers can pick the foot up and clean the lesion, scrubbing and debriding the necrotic tissue out of the interdigital space, it will speed up the healing,” he says. 

Untreated cases 

If the animal is not treated in a timely fashion, long-standing cases or cases difficult to clear up sometimes spread into surrounding tissues, and the infection may get into the tendon sheath or the joint in the foot, or in the worst case, into the bone.   

“Those advanced infections are really challenging to deal with. Sometimes we have to amputate one claw as a salvage strategy to get the foot healed up enough to sell or butcher the animal,” Lias explains. “If the animal is lame and unable to get around very well, it’s difficult for the animal to maintain weight, let alone gain back what was lost.”  

This disease is somewhat contagious, Lias shares, because the pathogens can be spread around if the lesion between the toes breaks open and drains. This increases the number of bacteria in the environment, so if one animal in the group is infected, it would wise to isolate the animal as it recovers. 

Foot rot prevention 

“For prevention of foot rot, it pays to do things to cattle from continually standing in one muddy, nasty spot,” notes Lias. “Move hay feeders if possible, move mineral feeders to a clean area and some mounds in lots so cattle can get out of the mud and stand on higher ground during rainy, wet conditions.” 

Some cattle may be more prone to foot rot than others, depending on individual immunities and hoof health. Some have more stress on the feet and more risk for problems.   

“If the hoof is too long, this can be a factor contributing to the risk of foot rot.  Healthy feet and skin are important, so nutrition plays a role,” Lias notes.  

“Some of the trace minerals like zinc are crucial for general immunity. Research many years ago demonstrated adequate amounts of zinc in the ration seemed to minimize the number of foot rot cases,” he adds, noting a good mineral program aids in general hoof health and immunity. 

Additionally, some producers have shared iodine is helpful in preventing foot rot and use iodized salt in a mineral mix. 

There is a vaccine some producers utilize, Lias shares, to give some immune protection.   

“I don’t have any experience with it, but it is reported in some situations to be effective for foot rot as well as liver abscesses,” he explains. “Early treatment is best for cattle affected by foot rot. If producers can catch it early and use the appropriate antibiotic in appropriate dose, treatment is usually successful.” 

Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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