When it comes to health issues on a dairy farm, lameness is usually a main concern along with mastitis and reproductive issues. It can be caused by a range of foot and leg conditions including foot rot, digital dermatitis, laminitis, and claw disease. Not only does lameness cause pain and distress for dairy cattle, but it also has a large economic impact on the dairy operation.

The disease

Digital dermatitis is one of the most common foot diseases of the dairy cow and can be found in even well managed dairy herds.

It is an infectious disease caused by a family of spiral-like bacteria called Treponema. Special attention must be given to this foot disease in order to treat the animals which serve as a reservoir of infection and to reduce the spread of infection.

Cows affected with digital dermatitis are usually easily spotted by the way they walk or behave. They appear to walk on their toes and they shift weight off the infected foot while standing. Lesions can also be spotted by washing the heels in the parlor and using a bright light to identify active lesions.

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Treating digital dermatitis

Footbaths do not cure rather, they are a management practice designed to maintain existing digital dermatitis in an inactive state (Stage M4). Treating infected (Stage M2) digital dermatitis on individual cows reduces the reservoir of infection which in turns reduces the incidence of spreading the bacteria to other herd mates.

Digital dermatitis can respond to topical treatment without foot wraps. The lesion should be wiped clean with a gauze pad or paper towel. An antibiotic powder such as oxytetracycline should be applied. The use of this drug must be done through a valid VCPR.

Oxytetracycline has resulted in remarkable improvement with the cow showing few, if any, real signs of pain within 24 to 28 hours. A gauze pad held in place by an adhesive bandage is applied to the treated area to ensure the lesion is dry and has contact with the antibiotic powder for a minimum of 30 minutes.

The prolonged use of foot wraps on individual cows for treatment can cause problems. If applied too tight, additional trauma can occur to the foot or pastern. Apply wraps loosely to reduce risk of injury.

Foot wraps staying on too long can create an environment around the foot which will perpetuate the foot disease, potentially delaying or diminishing healing.

The purpose of the wrap is to ensure the lesion is dry and has contact with the antibiotic powder for 30 minutes. Wraps should be removed within 24 hours after application if they have not fallen off. 


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