Bovine Lameness and Podiatry

Interdigital dermatitis complex

What is it

The interdigital dermatitis disease complex includes mild dermatitis and heel horn erosion. It is associated with an infectious and contagious bacterial infection. It may also be referred to as “slurry horn” due to contact with the manure slurry.

How to recognize it

The interdigital dermatitis complex leads to a mild dermatitis and erosion of heel bulbs. It does not usually cause lameness but is identified at routine hoof trimmings. Heel horn erosion appears as superficial damage to the heel in the non weight bearing region. Undermining and V-shaped grooved may be seen on both heels. The associated dermatitis looks like pale and damaged skin in the interdigital space. If the erosion extends to the corium, the animal may be lame.



Dichelobacter nodosus is the most common bacterium associated with this complex. It is gram-negative, anaerobic, commensal and opportunistic. It invades damaged skin and horn and is associated with wet and dirty environments. Once it invades the tissues, Dichelobacter causes additional damage, continuing the cycle. While Treponema was rarely isolated in cows with just heel erosion, it was found in 50% of Norwegian cows with interdigital dermatitis and in almost 70% of Norwegian cows with both interdigital dermatitis and heel erosions. Both interdigital dermatitis and heel erosion were associated with dirty claws.

How to prevent it

The key focus for preventing foot rot is preventing skin damage. Skin damage typically occurs with chronic wetting of the foot in muddy or wet and dirty environments. Regular and appropriate footbath use can help prevent the interdigital dermatitis disease complex.

How to treat it

Remove loose horn from the non-weight bearing heel region. Anaerobic pockets in the groove of the heel horn should be removed.

From Treatment Duration and Milk Production in Dairy Cattle with Foot Diseases, Philipp. J. Vet. Med., 55(1): 17-24, 2018

Key Takeaways

The interdigital disease complex leads to mild dermatitis and heel horn erosion. It develops due to skin damage and subsequent invasion of tissues by Dichelobacter.  It is usually detected and treated at routine hoof trimming.


Lameness originating in the hoof of cattle, Cramer and Solano,

Heel horn erosion, Dairyland initiative – more pics

Interdigital dermatitis, heel horn erosion, and digital dermatitis in 14 Norwegian dairy herds. Journal of Dairy Science Volume 96, Issue 12, December 2013, Pages 7617-7629


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Large Animal Surgery - Supplemental Notes Copyright © by Erin Malone, DVM, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.