Digital dermatitis

Digital dermatitis (DD) is one of the main causes of lameness in cattle. It is a both a welfare issue and has hefty financial implications, with each case estimated to cost between £75 to £81.49, meaning it could be costing the average herd up to £3000 per 100 cows!

Most of the cost is due to loss of milk yield and increased calving interval so the cost of treatment is just the tip of the iceberg.

Digital dermatitis is caused by a type of bacteria called Treponema, and is a widespread issue, with over 70% herds in the UK affected and within some affected herds, up to 41% of cows with lesions.

Once digital dermatitis is in a herd it is nearly impossible to truly eradicate it, so for negative herds it is important to keep it out with stringent bio-security of cattle and people. Once present in the herd, it is spread from cow to cow mainly through skin to skin contact, infected slurry contaminating feet, infected equipment, and poor foot hygiene - leading to the bacteria gaining easy access to the foot. The cow appears to generate minimal immunity to DD and so cows can often get multiple infections within their lifetime.

When a case of DD is suspected the foot should be lifted and the 5 step Dutch trimming method should be applied to rule out other claw lesions and to ascertain that DD is the cause of the lameness1.

Treatment of the individual should consist of washing slurry off the infected foot and either leaving the foot to dry or drying with paper towel before applying a topical product. An antibiotic based spray such as oxytetracycline is a licenced for treatment DD and is a good choice of treatment, other options include topical chelated copper products that are reported to work as well and sometimes better than oxytetracycline spray. The product should be left to dry and cleaning process and application should be repeated for 3 consecutive days, or more if necessary. The cow should be returned to a clean environment and slurry contamination should be reduced. Bandages should be used with extreme caution, they should only be applied to dry feet and should be changed regularly to avoid sores developing.

Prevention of spread within the herd is usually down to improving foot hygiene, this is often achieved, in part, by whole herd foot bathing with products such as copper or zinc sulphate or formalin. The aim of foot bathing is to try to improve foot/skin condition and reduce the bacterial contamination of the feet. There is limited evidence to suggest which of these is the best product to use in a footbath, the suggestion is copper is better than formalin as it may reduce recurrence of cases better than formalin. Copper sulphate should be used at 5% concentration, rather than 2% to increase effectiveness.

Reducing general slurry contamination of feet and improving foot hygiene will help reduce spread of DD within a herd, this could include scraping certain areas more regularly, such as the cubicle house, the collection yard during milking and the exit of the parlour between rows of cows. Other ways to improve foot hygiene include washing feet in the parlour and disinfecting foot trimming equipment between cows.

In summary, Digital dermatitis is a huge issue to the cattle industry, with effective identification and treatment of affected cows, as well as herd-level prevention through hygiene and footbathing the cornerstones of any control mechanisms. Your local Westpoint vet or hoof trimmer will be able to offer advice on implanting a DD control plan on your farm and on any other lameness issues you may have.

Westpoint offers a complete Farm Technician service. This covers foot trimming, mobility scoring, condition scoring, disbudding, blood sampling and parlour cleaning. We also run foot trimming training courses. These courses take place throughout the year or can be run on specifically on your farm. For further information please contact Chris Hulbert on 07921 214845 or visit our website