Wet weather can lead to painful condition in livestock
The recent wet and rainy weather in Arkansas can lead to hoof scald or hoof rot in livestock, David Fernandez, Extension livestock specialist and interim dean of graduate studies and continuing education for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, said in a news release.
“Hoof scald is a painful inflammation between the toes that causes livestock to limp and keep their weight off of the affected hoof. You might also notice the affected animal is losing weight, is reluctant to move and might graze on its knees rather than standing,” he said. “Productivity in terms of weight, milk production or wool growth may also drop. When you examine the animal, you may find the area between the toes to be red, inflamed, moist and/or raw.”
Hoof scald is caused by the bacterium Fusobacterium necrophorum found in livestock manure and is present in livestock pastures. The bacterium can live for as long as 18 weeks in the soil, Fernandez said. When livestock must spend most of their time in wet, muddy areas, the area between the toes can become irritated. The bacterium can invade the irritated tissue, resulting in hoof scald.
“F. necrophorum by itself is bad enough, but it creates conditions in the hoof that allow another bacterium, Dichelobacter nodosus, to invade. D. nodosus causes hoof rot,” he said. “The signs of hoof scald and hoof rot are similar, but in the case of hoof rot you will also notice a very foul odor, separation of the hoof wall from the hoof, and pus.”
Untreated hoof rot causes severe lameness and even the need to put the affected animal down. Hoof rot most commonly occurs under wet, muddy conditions when temperatures range between 50 and 70 degrees. D. nodosus can live in the soil for up to 14 days and in the hoof for up to six weeks.
Because these bacteria can remain in the soil for extended periods, and because the hoof may be constantly in contact with the wet, muddy ground, hoof scald and hoof rot are expensive and time-consuming to treat, he said. Treatment involves trimming the affected hoof. In the case of hoof rot, quite a lot of infected tissue, pus and separated hoof wall may have to be removed to remove as much of the bacteria as possible.
“This also exposes the bacteria to oxygen and any medication you use. A hoof bath containing either 10% zinc sulfate or 10% copper sulfate kills the bacteria,” Fernandez said. “Livestock must remain in the bath for 30 to 60 minutes at least twice a week. Alternatively, you can soak gauze in the solution and pack it in and around the infected area. You will have to wrap the hoof well to keep the gauze in place long enough to be effective.”
In severe cases, antibiotics may be necessary. Be sure to get a prescription from a veterinarian and follow their instructions carefully, he said. In the case of livestock that gets hoof rot a second time, consider culling the animal. Defects in the hoof wall or genetic susceptibilities may be the cause, and an animal that is repeatedly infected will just spread the disease on pastures and in a herd.
“Prevention is the much better alternative,” Fernandez said. “Begin with maintaining clean pastures. Drain excessively muddy areas and remove excessive manure accumulations or keep livestock out of these areas until they become dry. Installing heavy use areas around watering and feed troughs can reduce puddling and also acts as a ‘nail file,’ helping to keep hooves trimmed and strong.”
Also, trim animals’ hooves. On average, herds should be trimmed twice a year. Some herds require more frequent trimming while others do not ever need to be trimmed, he said. Hoof baths should be used after trimming and after animals return from any sales, shows or fairs. Even visitors can bring hoof rot bacteria to the farm on their shoes, so a foot bath or shoe covers should be used by visitors before they enter the pastures.
Hoof rot is extremely difficult to eradicate, and a herd cannot be considered hoof rot free unless there have been no cases of hoof rot for at least two years, Fernandez said.