Foot problems in cattle are of great concern, as an animal’s ability to move and level of pain, will affect its feed intake and productivity. Several culprits are to blame for foot problems.

Dr Gillian Declercq, community state veterinarian with the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD), says it is crucial to find the cause of these problems before treating them. “Possible culprits are foot rot, foot abscesses, laminitis and certain viral diseases.”

Foot rot

Foot rot is an infectious disease caused by a bacterial infection between the claws or hooves. This problem often occurs where animals are exposed to muddy and wet conditions. “The bacteria gain entry between the claws and cause swelling and a purulent discharge.

“The affected feet must be cleaned daily using a foot bath. This treatment can be on an individual basis, but if a large portion of the herd is affected, it would be wise to run the entire herd through a foot bath. It is also advisable to clean the foot well, especially in individual cases. Scrub the infected area to expose it before treatment and make sure that it stays clean.”

Use either zinc sulphate, copper sulphate or formalin in the foot bath. “Take care when you use formalin, as it can damage your skin,” warns Dr Declercq. If possible, also treat the area with oxytetracycline. In severe cases it may be advisable to inject the animal with oxytetracycline for at least ten days.

“Keep the foot bath clean, especially when treating an entire herd. It is difficult, but important. Use two foot baths, one with clean water to clean the hooves and another with the necessary medicine.”

Foot abscesses

An abscess often occurs when an animal steps on a thorn or stone. “If a thorn or stone penetrates the sole of the foot, it opens it up to infection which will lead to an abscess.”

Dr Declercq warns against the immediate use of antibiotics in the case of an abscess. “If you treat it with antibiotics the abscess will not ripen, and the animal will continue to have problems for some time. Wait for the abscess to ripen, allow it to drain, and then treat it with antibiotics if necessary.

“Once the abscess has drained, wash it with salt water and make sure it is completely clean so that infection is not reintroduced.”


Although it is not as common in cattle as in horses, laminitis should not be disregarded. It is often found in feedlot situations where animals are prone to acidosis.

Viral diseases

Foot problems can often be a symptom of viral diseases such as three-day stiff sickness, lumpy skin disease or foot and mouth disease (FMD). “Treat these diseases where necessary. Take special note of FMD as it is a controlled disease that affects our export status. It must be reported immediately.”

Bear in mind that foot problems that affect an entire herd are most commonly caused by the conditions in which the animals live. “Wet and muddy conditions tend to predispose them to foot rot. Stony ground, especially when it is raining, can lead to foot abscesses and sole bruises. In cases where a viral disease is the culprit, it will often not affect an entire herd at once.” – Marike Brits, AgriOrbit

This article is part of a series of informative animal health articles. The series goes hand in hand with the #VideoVet video series that can be viewed on Watch the video below.

For more information, contact your MSD Animal Health representative or phone 011 923 9300. (ZA/ORUM/0218/0003e)

Thank you for the support of several role-players in creating this series: the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Gillian Declercq and the CCS veterinarians (Dr Dzunisani Ngobeni, Dr Lindsay Parvess and Dr Heidi Kuhn), MSD Animal Health, as well as Kenneth Ndlovu and the Amogelang team for their assistance and animals for demonstration.