Bovine Lameness and Podiatry

Digital Dermatitis

G Cramer

What is it

An infectious and contagious bacterial infection of the skin, commonly seen in the interdigital cleft of the foot.

How to recognize it

Digital dermatitis presents in a variety of stages ranging from painful, bright red and ulcerated, or a less painful, grey/black, circular, granulomatous skin lesion. Edges can have a white margin and/or “hairs” protruding from them.

Lesions are clearly demarcated and are typically located in the interdigital cleft, but can occur on other locations such as the interdigital space or at the front of the foot.

Severe lesions can become proliferative with filamentous projections or hyperkeratotic.

It is useful to classify lesions into “active” (painful and ulcerative lesions > 2 cm) and “chronic” (grey/black hyperkeratotic lesions without painful ulcerative lesions >2 cm)

Pathogenesis

Mechanical irritation of the skin and maceration by water and chemicals from manure weakens the skin barrier.

A synergistic group of bacteria including Treponema spp then invade and infect the weakened skin barrier, leading to acute inflammation of the dermis and epidermis.

These bacteria are common in the environment and normally live in the rumen. There do appear to be some more virulent strains on some farms (or more susceptible cattle) as not all farms are infected with DD. Treponema species are gram negative spirochetes that are microaerophilic and can encyst for environmental survival. As the bacteria invade the epidermis and damage the different layers, the body responds with a local inflammatory process that can result in the hyperkeratosis and proliferative lesions.

How to prevent it

The main focus of prevention is hygiene. Providing a clean environment without wet or abrasive walking surfaces decreases the chances of bacteria invading a weakened skin barrier.

Footbaths are a preventative measure that should be used at whatever frequency is necessary to minimize the occurrence of active painful lesions. Footbaths need to be at least 10 feet (3m long) and are typically filled with disinfection solutions such as copper sulfate or formalin.

Other preventative measures include preventing infected animals from entering the herd and ensuring replacement animals are managed to prevent new infections.

How to treat it

Currently, no licensed products exist to treat DD. Treatment typically consists of applying topical tetracycline based antibiotics to active lesions using a wrap or a paste. Wraps are not necessary but if they are used they should be removed within 24 hours.

tetracycline applied, foot bandaged and then part of bandage cut away

Non-antibiotic compounds typically containing heavy metals such as copper are also often used in the field. The role of topical treatment is to treat active lesions and hasten its transition to a chronic lesion. Once the lesion is chronic, footbaths are used to prevent recurrence.

Systemic antibiotics do not penetrate into the lesion. Topical antibiotics seem to work quickly and effectively.

Key Takeaways

Digital dermatitis is due to Treponema infection of wet, traumatized feet. It leads to lameness and foot erosions or growths. Topical tetracycline is used to treat it.

Footbaths are useful to prevent bacterial infections – foot rot and digital dermatitis.

Resources

Clinical Perspectives of Digital Dermatitis in Dairy and Beef Cattle, VCNA 2017; Volume 33, Issue 2, July 2017, Pages 329-350

An Update on the Assessment and Management of Pain Associated with Lameness in Cattle VCNA FA 2017; Volume 33, Issue 2, July 2017, Pages 389-411

The Dairyland Initiative -good pics!

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Large Animal Surgery - Supplemental Notes by Erin Malone, DVM, PhD; Elaine Norton, DVM PhD; Erica Dobbs, DVM; and Ashley Ezzo, DVM is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.