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Interdigital Dermatitis in Cattle

(Stable footrot, Slurry heel, Scald)


Paul R. Greenough

, FRCVS, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan

Last full review/revision Sep 2015 | Content last modified Apr 2016
Topic Resources

Since the widespread appearance of digital dermatitis, interdigital dermatitis is rarely reported. This may imply that the causal organism of interdigital dermatitis may be implicated in the etiology of digital dermatitis.

Etiology and Pathogenesis:

Interdigital dermatitis is caused by a mixed bacterial infection, but Dichelobacter nodosus has been considered to be the most active component. D nodosus is an anaerobe and exceptionally proteolytic. The source of the infection is the cow itself, and the infection spreads from infected to noninfected cows through the environment. D nodosus cannot survive for >4 days on the ground but can persist in filth caked onto the claws, creating an anaerobic environment. The bacteria first invade the epidermis of the skin between the claws but do not penetrate to the dermal layers. As the condition progresses, the border between the skin and soft heel horn at the posterior commisure disintegrates, producing lesions similar to ulcers or erosions. At this stage, the lesions cause discomfort. In tied systems, the hindlimbs are affected more often than the forelimbs. In loose housing systems, the distribution between fore- and hindlimbs is about equal. Animals on slatted floors are affected less often than animals on solid floors.

Clinical Findings:

The early stages of the condition appear as an exudative dermatitis. The exudate oozes to the commissures of the interdigital space and forms a crust or scab, which may be observed occasionally on the dorsal surface of the digits. As the condition progresses, the animal shows discomfort by “paddling,” or constantly moving from one foot to the other. If the heels of the hind feet are especially painful, the limbs are held further back than normal. True lameness does not develop until a complicating lesion is present. After a prolonged period, during which the animal has avoided bearing weight on the heel, the horn beneath the heel increases in thickness and some aberrations of gait result. In dairy cows, interdigital hyperplasia (corns, fibroma) may be caused by the chronic irritation of the interdigital space. Often, the fibroma develops on one side of the interdigital space.

Foot-and-mouth disease can be confused with interdigital dermatitis if the interdigital space is not always examined carefully.


Systemic therapy, including the use of antibiotics, is not cost effective. In severe cases, the lesions should be cleaned and dried, after which a topical bacteriostatic agent is applied, eg, a 50% mixture of sulfamethazine powder and anhydrous copper sulfate. Alternatively, an animal can be confined in a footbath for 1 hr, bid for 3 days.


Good management and housing systems that keep claws dry and clean are most important. Regular foot trimming helps avoid complications. Footbathing, beginning in late fall and before clinical cases can be identified during high-risk periods, is essential in herds known to be infected. Weekly footbathing may be sufficient in the late fall, but the frequency may have to be increased in late winter.

Lameness in Cattle
Overview of Lameness in Cattle
Physical Examination of a Lame Cow
Locomotion Scoring in Cattle
Computerized Recording of Digital Lesions in Cattle
Distal Digital Anesthesia for Diagnostic and Surgical Procedures in Cattle
Radiography in Cattle
Arthrocentesis and Arthroscopy in Cattle
Risk Factors Involved in Herd Lameness of Cattle
Footbaths of Cattle
Functional Claw Trimming of Cattle
Prevalent Lameness Disorders in Intensively Managed Herds of Cattle
Digital Dermatitis in Cattle
Pododermatitis Circumscripta in Cattle
White Line Disease in Cattle
Toe Necrosis Syndrome in Cattle
Sole Hemorrhage in Cattle
Thin Sole in Cattle
Heel Erosion in Cattle
Other Disorders of the Interdigital Space in Cattle
Interdigital Dermatitis in Cattle
Interdigital Phlegmon in Cattle
Interdigital Hyperplasia in Cattle
Disorders of the Horn Capsule and Corium in Cattle
Laminitis in Cattle
Double Sole in Cattle
Foreign Body in Sole of Cattle
Vertical Fissures in Cattle
Horizontal Fissures in Cattle
Corkscrew Claw in Cattle
Slipper Foot in Cattle
Disorders of the Bones and Joints in Cattle
Ankylosing Spondylosis in Cattle
Degenerative Arthropathy in Cattle
Coxofemoral Luxation in Cattle
Patellar Luxation in Cattle
Fetlock Dislocation in Cattle
Hip Dysplasia in Cattle
Fractures in Cattle
Septic Arthritis of the Distal Interphalangeal Joint in Cattle
Serous Tarsitis in Cattle
Neurologic Disorders Associated with Lameness or Gait Abnormalities in Cattle
Suprascapular Paralysis in Cattle
Radial Paralysis in Cattle
Ischiatic Paralysis in Cattle
Obturator Paralysis in Cattle
Femoral Paralysis in Cattle
Peroneal Paralysis in Cattle
Tibial Paralysis in Cattle
Spastic Syndrome in Cattle
Spastic Paresis in Cattle
Soft-tissue Disorders Causing Lameness in Cattle
Carpal Hygroma in Cattle
Rupture of the Gastrocnemius Muscle in Cattle
Rupture of the Peroneus Tertius Muscle in Cattle
Tarsal Cellulitis in Cattle
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A seven-year-old Quarter horse gelding presents with a 1-week history of mild lameness. During the examination, the horse raises his head as he places weight on his left forelimb and drops it when placing weight on the right forelimb. Which limb is most likely affected in this horse?
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