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Posted: 09/27/2022

Foot Rot: Causes, Treatments and Prevention

Fusobacterium necrophorum. It might sound boring, but this bacteria can survive in soil for even longer than it takes us to sound out the pronunciation. With a potential survival of up to 10 months in your soil, it has the potential to wreak havoc on your livestock through foot rot. This decaying infectious disease in cattle, sheep and goats leads to lame feet and much worse – decreased weight gain, reluctance to breed, reduced milk and wool production, chronic disease and more. Preventing foot rot is possible with intentional practices and powerful vaccines. Let’s find out what causes foot rot, as well as how key products from PBS Animal Health can help treat and/or prevent it for your herd and flock.

Close up of wet cow hoof in mud

What Causes Foot Rot?

Foot rot occurs when bacteria irritate and enter deep tissue via wet skin or an injury in/around the hoof wall. Animals are susceptible to foot rot when:

  • they stand in contaminated, bacteria-heavy pens with urine/feces
  • they acquire injuries after walking on newly mowed pastures, dry lots or sharp/stony surfaces
  • humidity leads to chapped skin with cracks that make it easy for bacteria to enter the deep tissue
  • nutrient deficiencies of copper, zinc, and selenium decrease immunity and hoof and skin strength
Cattle, sheep and goats of all ages can experience foot rot in the interdigital skin (between their claws). The rot itself appears as cracks in that interdigital skin with a foul smell. Other foot-related issues cause lameness in one leg so diagnosis can be confusing, but the key sign to look for is swelling in both claws. Many other conditions (interdigital dermatitis, sole abrasions, ulcers, etc.) usually only impact one claw on the foot. The animals with foot rot experience sudden lameness and pain, but they also lose their appetites and exhibit a higher body temperature.

The Best Treatment for Foot Rot

When you identify infected animals, there are several steps to help control the foot rot and limit the spread. First, separate the infected animal(s) from the herd or flock for about 30 days and be sure to trim their hooves before bringing them back with the other animals. Hoof trimming helps air out the hoof and eliminates any rot-inducing bacteria. Use hoof rot shears to remove the decaying tissue, and follow it up with a nutrient-rich footbath solution. A zinc or copper sulfate solution will dry the tissue in and around the hoof, but be cautious with sheep as the copper will stain wool (it can be toxic for goats and sheep if ingested, but it is very effective against foot rot).

You also can treat foot rot with antibiotics that contain penicillin or tetracyclines, and you may also consider anti-inflammatory medications to combat pain relief. Generally, animals progress from their infections 3-4 days after antibiotic treatments. In some cases, producers may choose to cull an infected animal. Remember, always talk to your veterinarian for direction on antibiotics and/or vaccinations for your livestock, and be sure to follow all labels carefully.

Close up of wet cow hoof in mud

Treatments That Won’t Require a Prescription

Another treatment option that won’t require a prescription is Ring Out Spray Concentrate, a non-toxic biosecurity spray preferred by expert livestock and pet owners. Keep this on hand to clean and help prevent and manage the spread of foot rot as well as ringworm (even to humans). It’s suitable for all livestock and can even be sprayed directly on clean barns, trailers, livestock facilities, tools, combs and boots.
Addressing hoof health and foot rot in all hooved animals doesn’t have to require a prescription. PBS Animal Health carries Hoof 1-2-3, a three-phase rotation of footbath solution for optimal hoof health. It’s a formaldehyde-free product that’s effective for bacterial treatment of foot rot in cattle and all hoofed animals. Hoof 1-2-3 comes as a concentrated solution that you simply dilute with water. There’s even a dye component that gives management an easy visual to check animals for treatment.
Visit each of the product pages for full details:

Prevention is Possible

While foot rot can be a random occurrence, prevention measures should be very intentional. For starters, minimize sharp footing – gravel, stiff plants/brush, frozen or dry mud – that could lead to hoof injuries. Also be proactive about keeping pens dry by eliminating manure and mud. You may even consider introducing zinc into animal feed for stronger hoof health (or implementing regular footbaths with a zinc solution like the ones mentioned above) before an infection is present.

By far, the smartest prevention method is vaccination. The Fusogard Cattle Vaccine from Elanco is a smart choice for cattle 6 months of age and older that are exposed to foot rot-causing environments. It's got a broad window of administration that Elanco says allows for vaccination during breeding soundness exams and turnout. Vaccination also may help avoid antibiotics. Many of these treatments will soon require prescriptions, so think ahead and try to avoid this mess for you and your animals altogether.

Get Happy, Healthy Hooved Animals. Turn to PBS Animal Health.

Foot rot can be an expensive infection for our industry to manage, but with the right mix of hoof trimming, footbaths, vaccinations and antibiotics, your herd and/or flock can “put their best foot forward” once again. Explore all the treatment and prevention products offered at PBS Animal Health to combat foot rot today.

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