Close up of cow hoof with foot rot.

← All Resources

Foot Rot in Beef Cattle Is a Big Issue

6 minute read

Infectious claw lesions and the resulting beef cattle lameness can have significant negative impacts on overall well-being, health and productivity. Foot rot in beef cattle, or interdigital phlegmon, is one such disease that can become prevalent under certain environmental conditions and in particular geographic areas. It can be a major cause of lameness in beef and dairy cattle of all ages.  

Foot rot in beef cattle is a bacterial infection of the skin between the toes on hooves that causes pain and swelling. While similar to, and often accompanied by, digital dermatitis, foot rot differs from digital dermatitis in the type of bacteria that causes it and the mode in which it infects cattle.

Digital dermatitis occurs when noninfected cattle are exposed to infected cattle. The bacteria that causes foot rot, fusobacterium necrophorum, comes from the digestive system, is excreted through manure and therefore is constantly present in the cattle environment.

Read more: Record rainfall totals increase digital dermatitis and foot rot

Foot Rot is More Prevalent in Extremely Wet and Dry Conditions

Foot rot can be prevalent during extremely dry conditions but is even more so during extremely wet conditions. When cattle hooves are constantly exposed to moisture, the epithelial barrier of the hooves will become compromised, leaving them more susceptible to lesions. This opens the door for bacteria found in manure and slurry to infect the cattle with foot rot.

Dry skin, including the epithelial barrier on cattle hooves, tends to crack during extremely dry conditions. This can also cause bacteria to infect the cattle with foot rot.

Regardless of the time of year or weather, anything that can cause an abrasion on the skin will allow bacteria to enter through hoof lesions that may not even be visible to the human eye.

Foot Rot Leads to Reduced Performance in the Feedlot

When feedlot cattle become infected with foot rot, or sustain other lameness issues, they will become less mobile and will visit the feed bunk less often. This typically causes a reduction in dry matter intake and a reduction in average daily gain, ultimately leading to more days on feed.

The overall impact of foot rot in feedlot cattle depends on several factors. Accurately diagnosing and effectively treating foot rot as early as possible during the course of the disease will have the greatest effect on mitigating subsequent losses in live animal or carcass value. If you catch it early enough in the growth of feedlot steers, when they have lower requirements for energy and nutrients, they will have an opportunity to recover and get back on track.

In addition to the impact of reduced growth and performance, the cost of treatment and the labor required to pull animals in for treatment can lead to significant economic losses.

Foot rot in the pasture can be more problematic than the same issue in the feedlot because of the time and effort it takes to gather infected cattle and get them into a chute for treatment. Although recovery time varies, infected cattle will be set back in their growth and production while the foot rot heals.  Foot rot in cows and/or bulls can also have a negative impact on reproduction.

How to Identify Foot Rot in Cattle

An early telltale sign of foot rot is lameness, including elevated locomotion scores. Cattle will exhibit foot pain before you see any swelling. Within about 72 hours, you will see deterioration of the skin, breaking between the toes.

One way to tell foot rot from digital dermatitis is that foot rot will result in symmetrical swelling all the way around the foot of the animal to the dew claws. Over time, the swelling will increase to the point where it will actually start to cause the toes to separate. As the lesion advances, foot rot can also cause a foul odor. 

Producers should visually examine animals for lameness issues every day because the key to a successful treatment is quick identification.

Management Strategies to Prevent Foot Rot in Cattle

In addition to examining beef cattle for visual signs of foot rot and lameness every day, beef cattle producers should manage the environment properly to control exposure to wet pen conditions and any type of environment that will compromise skin integrity.

In the feedlot, be sure to eliminate mud holes and areas that can cause foot injuries. In confined facilities, make sure that pens are being scraped and bedded in a timely manner. Additionally, a well-managed foot bath can help prevent foot rot.

Utilize locomotion scoring on a routine basis to evaluate cattle for lameness. Make the proper diagnosis so that you can apply the proper treatment.

Performance Trace Minerals Help Prevent Foot Rot

When we look at the role of performance trace minerals in mitigating foot rot, we’re looking at improving skin integrity and immune function in the animals. Zinc is the main contributor because of its role in epithelial skin integrity. It is important both to the development of new skin cells and in wound healing.

Additionally, zinc helps beef cattle mount a rapid and robust inflammatory response to immune challenges, including the bacteria that cause foot rot.

Help Minimize Incidence and Severity of Foot Rot with Zinpro Performance Minerals

It is better to prevent foot rot than to treat an outbreak in your herd. Providing a balanced diet that includes supplementing cattle nutrition programs with zinc from Zinpro® Availa Zn or ZINPRO® zinc methionine at a minimum recommended level of 360 mg zinc per head per day helps increase the animal’s resilience to clinical disease by maintaining good skin integrity and improving immune function.

In the event of a foot rot outbreak, feeding an elevated level (such as 720 mg zinc per head, per day) may be recommended. This is especially relevant under conditions where feed intake in cattle may be reduced due to stress, weather or other conditions. In general, the earlier in the feeding period you can begin feeding Availa-Zn or ZINPRO, the more time is available for the animal to respond with increased epithelial and immune function resilience in advance of a disease or stress challenge. If the situation has improved and things have gone back to normal, you should go back to supplementing the normal recommended amount.

Incidence and severity of foot rot can be minimized by implementing proven management and nutritional practices.

More information about foot rot and other beef cattle lameness issues can be found in Cattle Lameness; Identification, Prevention and Control of Claw Lesions. For more information about preventing foot rot by supplementing your beef cattle nutrition program with Availa-Zn, contact your Zinpro representative today.