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Digital dermatitis is a particularly infectious condition that can spread quickly through the herd. It produces painful lesions on the soft tissues between the claws and the heel, although occasionally it occurs on other soft parts of the foot. Cows often walk very tenderly on the affected feet, sometimes giving the impression that they are walking on 'tip toe' in order to avoid touching the ground with the painful affected area of their hoof.
Prevention is best through effective bio-security and hygiene, as once the disease is present it will not be possible to eradicate it. There are several strains of the illness, and new strains or a combination of different strains can cause more severe disease problems on a farm where the illness is already present. Operating a closed herd may aid in preventing the introduction of the disease but contaminated slurry on vehicle wheels and on boots can lead to introduction of the disease. Any new cows or bulls brought into the herd should ideally come from herds free of the disease, and should also be isolated for as long as is practicable before introduction to the herd. Other livestock species are also capable of harbouring the infection.
Keeping cows' feet as clean as possible will limit the potential of the disease, and effective everyday foot bathing plays an important role in this respect; this prevents infection but will not cure established infections. Effective slurry management is an essential measure to control the disease, by avoiding pools of slurry. Hygienic procedures when treating or trimming feet affected with digital dermatitis are also important to avoid infected material causing further infections.
Herd treatment is usually via antibiotic foot baths but the feet must be particularly clean both before and after footbathing for the treatment to be at all effective, and the treatment needs to be on a 'whole-herd' basis. In many instances, spraying feet in the parlour with the antibiotic treatment after having carefully and thoroughly washed them with a power hose may be a much more effective means of disease control. Individual cases with the symptoms of digital dermatitis should have their feet lifted and examined, and any dead tissue removed before treating with topical antibiotics. In any case, once a problem has been identified, prompt action is necessary to limit the problem.
Particularly bad infections may necessitate dressing and bandaging to aid healing.