Lameness: Digital Dermatitis

These information sheets are provided for your interest. They should not replace veterinary advice from your veterinary surgeon.

Whilst every effort is taken to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information provided, your specific circumstances must be discussed before advice can be given.

This is one of the most common causes of lameness of cattle in the UK. It has spread across the UK over the last 20 years and is now widespread. In herds which are infected, disease is seen in up to 30% of animals. The infection commonly inflames the skin of the plantar aspect of the foot between the heel bulbs. This is a disease of commercialisation, being seen most commonly in housed cattle with poor slurry management and high stocking density. The main agent responsible is Treponema denticola, and other spirochaetes may be involved.

More recently, spirochaetes have been shown to inhabit other foot lesions, such as sole ulcers and white line disease. The spirochaetes mean that these lesions do not heal in the normal time course, and antibiosis is required in addition to adequate paring in order to help these lesions heal.

Clinical signs:

  • red circumscribed patches of exposed epidermis near to heel bulbs
  • lesions are painful to touch
  • chronically see verrucose dermatitis which produces keratin papillae, often described as hairy heel warts.

Treatment:

The condition is relatively easy to treat, but difficult to beat out of a herd. In an individual case, wash the heels and apply topical antibiotic spray. This is best repeated 2-3 days later. In a herd outbreak, an antibiotic footbath can be used (eg Linco-Spectin 100 powder - 150g in 200 litres water. This is off licence use and carries a 7 day milk/28 day meat withdrawal period.) This should be repeated 5-7 days later.

Control:

The same antibiotic footbath protocol as outlined above can be used for control - repeating once or twice a month during the housed period. Reducing wet conditions by alterations to slurry management can be worthwhile in herds where digital dermatitis is a problem. Footbathing with a disinfectant solution (Formalin or Copper sulphate) will help to prevent the spread of spirochaetes and in effect cannot be done too frequently. Animals with active lesions should not be footbathed with formalin or copper sulphate, as this will be extremely painful.