Foot Rot

Foot rot is an infectious disease of cattle which causes swelling and lameness in one or more feet. The disease may persist for extended periods of time. Foot rot can be found in individual animals and also may spread to entire herds of animals causing significant economic losses.

Common Names

Foot rot is the term most commonly used to refer to adverse conditions affecting the foot or feet of cattle, sheep, and goats. Another form of the disease is known as “Super Foot Rot”. Super foot rot is much more severe and can be resistant to otherwise standard and effective treatments; it progresses rapidly and requires aggressive treatment.

Causative Organism

Fusobacterium necrophorum and Bacteroides melaninogenicus are the bacteria that are thought to cause foot rot. Foot rot occurs in cattle of all ages, but it is most common in adults. Bacteria enter through lesions, cuts, or abrasions on the foot. The bacteria do not penetrate through normal skin. Foot rot is commonly diagnosed in areas with wet or damp areas and thus is most prevalent in the fall and winter seasons.

Common Symptoms

  1. Inflammation and necrosis of tissue
  2. Severe swelling and extreme pain
  3. Smelly discharge occurs in the tracts that open into the feet around the hoof
  4. Lameness with holding or raising of a foot (hind limbs are affected most often)
  5. Difficulty in movement
  6. Reluctance to placing weight on affected legs
  7. Holding affected limbs in a flexed position – usually with only one toe touching ground
  8. Loss of appetite and weight
  9. Fever
  10. Reduction in milk production
  11. Severe illness can lead to death in prolonged cases

How it Affects Cattle

Foot rot can spread quickly among a healthy herd of cattle due to contamination of the same environment. Studies indicate Dairy breeds as more susceptible to foot rot than beef breeds

Regional Impacts

The disease is seen year-round, but there is increased occurrence in the wet seasons. Almost anything that causes damage to the skin between the digits of the feet should be treated and monitored so that it does not lead to foot rot. Wet manure and mud can soften the skin between the digits and allow infection. Mud, pebbles, rock and stubble can cause damage to the tissues and allow for abrasions, cuts, or softening of the feet which will cause susceptibility to the bacteria that causes foot rot.

Risks & Dangers

Once the in bacteria of foot rot infect an animal, it can cause inflammation and decay of tissue resulting in severe swelling and acute pain. The discharges that occur from the infected animal can spread the disease to other healthy members of the herd.


Penicillin, oxytetracyclines Ceftiofur and Florfenicol are effective antibiotics. If caught early, treatment of foot rot usually is successful. Once symptoms are apparent, cleaning the area of infection is imperative. For mild cases, topical therapy may be all that is required to heal. More severe cases should be monitored by your veterinarian, and may require removal of infected tissue and antimicrobial applications. The most critical cases may require claw amputation or slaughter.

Vaccines & Prevention

To prevent re-infection, the treated animals should be kept on dry surfaces until recovered. Although not proven, adding zinc to animal feed is thought to be effective in treating and preventing foot rot in cattle.

References and Resources

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