The excessively wet weather could produce a lot of foot rot in cattle this year but we won’t know until it dries up.
The bacterium that causes foot rot thrives in warm, moist conditions. But it can’t infect an animal’s hooves without penetrating them. Cattle aren’t likely to get foot rot just by standing or walking in water.
However, if the weather turns hot and dry, that’s when foot rot problems can start, veterinarians say.
Too much water makes cattle’s hooves soft and vulnerable to abrasion. This can predispose them to foot rot. A sudden change to warm weather produces a hard crust on the soil and subjects soft hooves to injury or damage from abrasive surfaces, small pebbles or even stubble.
That’s when infections can occur, said Dr. Kevin Steinbach, a Dauphin veterinarian.
“Usually when it’s this wet, it’s not an issue, or it’s just a minor issue,” Steinbach said.
“But when it gets really hot for three days, you get a hard crust on top and it traumatizes the soft skin. The feet go in the muck below and that’s when you see the incidence start to spike.”
Foot rot usually begins as a swelling of the skin between the claws within 24 hours of the onset of the infection. The swelling separates the toes, the foot becomes painful and the animal gets lame.
In extreme cases, infection can get into the joints and bones, causing a septic arthritis from which animals never recover, said Dr. Wayne Tomlinson, a MAFRI extension specialist.
Antibiotics are usually an effective treatment against foot rot. But the disease should be treated early because deep infections are difficult to deal with, Tomlinson said.
Foot rot is contagious, although it’s not spread from animal to animal like a virus. Instead, cattle with festering hooves shed the agent on the ground, often near water sources, where other animals walking by pick it up, said Tomlinson.
He said it’s difficult to know if foot rot will be widespread this year since cattle are slow to go out on pasture because of wet conditions.
Juanita Kopp, a MAFRI beef specialist in Pilot Mount, said it’s possible for cattle to get foot rot in dry conditions, too. Cattle can get sand cracks in their hooves, allowing the bacteria to penetrate.
Kopp recommended a “good mineral package” for cattle on pasture to guard against foot rot. Copper, zinc, iodine and trace minerals encourage healthy hooves and prevent cracking, she said. [email protected]