Prevent hoof infections

Many different factors are involved in the pathogenesis of infectious claw diseases, including strength/quality of the claw horn and barn/claw hygiene. A hands-on mentality is required in combination with proper management. To begin with the basics – overall hygiene, proper housing and cow comfort – must be ok. This is supported by a recent study by Wageningen University and Research.

Management, Cow health

A clear relationship has been established between dry and clean walking floors and the incidence of infectious claw diseases. When the basics are ok it is then a matter of preventing cows from being (re)infected with, for example, digital dermatitis or inter-digital dermatitis. An example is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: A Digital dermatitis; B Interdigital dermatitis

A. Digital dermatitis (Mortellaro, slurry heel, hairy wart, Italian foot rot) is a strawberry-like lesion which is very painful for cows. It is caused by a variety of  bacteria and once at a farm it is very hard to get rid of.
B. Interdigital dermatitis is a skin infection. The skin is infected in the heel area and the interdigital cleft, and the irritation leads to abnormal horn formation. It is characterized by a specific “rotty” smell and V-shaped horn fissures in the heel area.


The bacteria causing infectious claw problems thrive in dirty conditions. Dirty claws create an environment without air and oxygen around the claws where bacteria can easily grow and infect the foot. Manure and urine in combination with moisture also weaken both the skin (it’s a bit like when you stay in the bath for too long) and the horn, making it easier for bacteria to penetrate. Claw disorders can have significant economic consequences, especially with a milking robot: milk production, fertility and visiting behavior to the robot will all decline. 

Lely Walkway


Depending on the herd’s claw health, it is recommended that you use a foot bath at least once every one or two weeks. It is very important to refresh the foot bath after every 100 cows (or after 12 hours). Also, one must remember that it is important to trim the herd correctively on time in order to prevent serious claw problems and to maintain good cow flow through the robot! Click here to see a video on preventive / corrective trimming.

Summary on how to prevent hoof infections

• Hygiene means a dry, clean walking floor
• The bedding in the cubicles must be clean
• Avoid overstocking the cubicles
• Feed your cows a well-balanced diet
• Reduce stress to a minimum
• Limit bacterial infection pressure
• Check that every new animal joining the dairy herd is free from dermatitis
• Prevention is time well-spent and will save you money in the future