Handling Bovine Laminitis and Digital Dermatitis
The legs of your livestock, horses, sheep or goats are essential to their good health. In fact, an animal that comes up lame has an increased tendency for injury to the affected area, even after it heals. The longer that an animal is left without treatment to the affected limb(s), the more likely permanent damage to the affected area will result. Seen in a variety of animals with hoofed feet, horses seem to be the most susceptible in infections involving the hoof itself and the surrounding tissue but any animal can fall victim. The economic implications associated with foot problems can be a minimum of $90 to $100 per case. Depending on the problem and the severity this cost can be higher. Dairy cattle are the most affected within the bovine species.
Laminitis is a condition that results from a broad range of factors including stress, diet, hygiene, excess body weight, too little exercise, and poorly bedded stalls. Diet tends to be a key trigger in the development of laminitis and the primary cause is acidosis. This occurs when there is too much starch or not enough fiber in the diet. When starch in the rumen is broken down, lactic acid is produced. When the amount of lactic acid in the system is more than the naturally occurring flora can metabolize, it causes an increase in the acidity in the digestive tract that can kill the rumen microbes. Without sufficient quantities of microbes to combat the acidosis, toxins can be released and these are thought to affect hoof health. Giving the animal a probiotic supplement such as Probios can help to combat these effects by ensuring that the digestive system has adequate microbes to function properly.
While diet is a large influencing factor for laminitis, environment is also another important one to consider. Cows are not meant for nor adapted to standing on hard, abrasive surfaces for long periods of time. Confinement to hard surfaces increases the weight load on the hooves and tends to irritate the corium and accelerate hoof growth. Hoof overgrowth can lead to overloading of the affected claws and result in lameness. The type of concrete that the animal is exposed to has much to do with hoof health as well. New concrete is tougher on the cow than old as well as wet concrete because moisture softens the hoof and promotes more wear and tear. Confinement also restricts exercise, resulting in weak pasterns and wide spread claws. The incidence of lameness seems to be higher in free stalls than straw yards. Cows should be allowed to move at their own pace over hard and rough surfaces. Housing on natural or cushioned surfaces reduces weight load and smooth concrete floors allow for better traction. The best preventative care is to allow the cows time on natural, dry surfaces for at least two to three hours per day.
Digital Dermatitis is also a serious problem. For the past fifteen years it has plagued the North American Dairy industry. Commonly known as heel warts or hairy hoof warts, it is not caused by a virus but rather the spirochete bacterium and is highly contagious. Cattle affected show obvious lameness and spend an inordinate amount of time lying down as this condition is a very painful one for the animal and is more common in first-calf heifers. The disease is usually located in the hind feet with little to no digital swelling evident. The lesions are usually located at the rear of the foot right above the heel. They look like raised yellow and red patches and are very painful and prone to bleeding. When the lesions mature, they can be up to two inches across and be raised with black or brown patches of hair protruding. They can continue for many months and may shrink in dry weather. Environmental factors can also preclude or aggravate the condition either by poor stall conditions or wet floors.
Treatment for digital dermatitis varies depending on the stage in which it is caught. In the initial stage of the disease, due to the pain allowing the cow to walk normally is critical to recovery. This requires desensitization of the infected area by removing any debris from the lesion and applying a topical solution of antibiotics and / or caustic chemicals. Topical sprays of iodine or iodized copper have been used effectively for treatment on control. Caustic chemicals should be used with extreme caution. If they are overused they can cause serious lameness due to chemical burns on the skin. A concentrated footbath along with topical applications can be effective in controlling foot warts. For large, chronic foot warts, surgical removal may be necessary. The un-diseased tissue next to the base of the wart must also be removed from the entire circumference of the lesion for the sugary to be a success; otherwise re-growth of the wart may commonly occur.
Foot health and lameness are major issues facing dairy producers because of their common occurrence and the tremendous economic losses incurred. Early detection and prompt treatment can minimize the loss, improve recovery, and reduce animal suffering.