Footrot in ruminants is an infection of interdigital tissue between their toes. Warm wet weather is a key predisposing condition and frequently occurs in cattle after walking across metal roads. Hard stones of the right size can become stuck between the claws and result in damage of the skin. This breaks down one of the key immune defences of the body and bacteria can then infect the underlying soft tissue.
The claws of ruminants are considered to be equivalent to the middle and ring fingers of people, and the dew claws being the index and little fingers. The wall of the hooves is like the nails and the sole of the foot is similar to the soft red tissue immediately under the nails joining the pad of the fingers.
Ruminants have the same three joints as our fingers – the fetlock joints are the knuckles; the pastern joint is the next joint down and finally the coffin joint which is “buried” below the top level of the hoof wall. The web between ruminant claws is slightly lower down, just below the pastern or middle joint of our fingers. It is this web between the toes which becomes damaged and infected in footrot.
Footrot has a strong genetic predisposition and, hence, was more of an issue when my grandfather was a kid as opposed to currently on sheep farms within New Zealand. Good farms culled their flocks aggressively and selected animals with good leg and feet traits for their future breeding stock. Some of the more recently introduced, new or exotic breeds, which may not have had wet environmental conditions and footrot challenge in their original environments, have higher rates of infection compared to animals which have been in New Zealand for generations.
The bacteria which cause footrot are very susceptible to procaine penicillin G and milder or early cases can be managed with 10% zinc sulphate foot baths and some topical footrot sprays. The length of time required to be standing in the foot bath is considered to be from two minutes for mild infections to 30 minutes for worse infections. As a kid, my brother had a small flock of angora goats and I can remember the weekly round-up and 30 minute footbaths which I helped him with when I was at primary school.
Trimming the claws of sheep and goats can also help reduce the frequency of foot infections and was another monthly chore I helped my brother with.
Online videos are a modern resource for understanding what footrot infections are and instructions on foot trimming and foot baths. Should you require additional help with “fixing” your animals feet, then talk to your local veterinarian. To be able to dispense antibiotics for footrot, your animals need to be examined on your farm and animals are under immediate care of a veterinarian.