Digital dermatitis is an infectious foot disease that is very hard to remove once a dairy herd is infected. It is possible, though, to keep this problem at bay.

“It is unlikely you will eliminate digital dermatitis from the premises; it will always remain present,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Dörte Döpfer during an episode of the Hoard’s DairymanHerd It Here” podcast. “However, if we can offer prompt treatment due to good detection, we can prevent outbreaks.”

The professor at the university’s School of Veterinary Medicine emphasized the need for early identification and treatment. “If you only treat the tip of the iceberg which is severe cases, you will never obtain sufficient control to prevent major outbreaks of digital dermatitis later on,” she said.

Infected cows can be treated. Döpfer said to use low stress stockmanship to bring individual cows to a hoof trimming chute. Lift the feet and clean them using a disposable towel or wipe, making sure to clean out the interdigital space of the hoof. The stage of the lesion will establish which topical treatment is best. The product used will also determine if veterinary supervision is needed.

Döpfer said people often ask if these hooves should be wrapped following treatment. Her answer depends on how practical removal would be. If farms are set up where wraps can be taken off in a day or two, then it is okay to wrap lesions after treatment.

If removal is not feasible, then it is better to leave the hoof unwrapped and instead keep the cow on a clean surface for 30 minutes after treatment. Döpfer said, in her opinion, topical treatment is most effective in the first 30 minutes after application, and this strategy would allow the topical treatment to do its work on the foot.

Every topical treatment should be followed with the use of a well-designed and strategically utilized disinfecting foot bathing regimen to keep digital dermatitis under control. While it is very rare that a cow will be completely healed from the infection, Döpfer said control strategies prevent the open wounds that cause lesions and lead to lameness.

She also emphasized the need for a hoof trimmer who is informed about digital dermatitis and is able to perform functional hoof trimming to avoid mechanical consequences in the foot.

“Farms have to have a team of people thinking together about what can be done to prevent digital dermatitis, and a well-trained hoof trimmer is part of that,” Döpfer summarized.

To learn more, listen to the podcast, “Dealing with digital dermatitis.” This episode was sponsored by Hoof-Zink.

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November 9, 2023
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