Hairy Heel Wart (Digital Dermatitis) vs. Foot Rot: What’s the Difference?

By Dale Baker
AgroChem Hoof Care Technical Expert

Digital Dermatitis (Hairy Heel Wart) and Interdigital Phlegmon (Foot Rot) are separate diseases, but it can be easy to confuse the two. Both cause lameness, impacting yield, fertility and longevity. Both are caused by bacteria, which thrive—and spread—in muddy, dirty, damp conditions. Both leave your animals shifting from foot to foot seeking relief, if standing at all. And both can cost your operation hundreds of dollars per cow each year.

Yet hairy heel wart and foot rot are distinctly different hoof conditions, requiring distinctly different treatments. Here’s how to recognize what you’re dealing with, so you can fight back appropriately.

Hary Heel Wart - Digital Dermatitis, dairy hoof healthDigital Dermatitis (Hairy Heel Wart):

  • Look for: initially a raw, painful, reddened area, rimmed with erect or matted hairs. Develops into a wet, gray lesion that, later, appears distinctly wart-like and may be ringed by hair-like projections. Most commonly affects the back of the hoof between the bulbs of the heels, can also spread around the foot and into the cleft between the claws.
  • Usually no swelling or fever.
  • Active, painful lesions require immediate treatment. First, clean affected areas with a stiff brush and soapy water, then rinse and dry. Follow with topical antiseptic therapy, such as HealMax® by AgroChem Inc. No foot wrap is necessary if using HealMax Wart Spray; however, if using other HealMax products, a light wrap may be applied.

Foot RotInterdigital Phlegmon (Foot Rot):

  • Look for: sudden onset, usually in one limb. Reddened tissue above the hoof and between the rear claws. Acute swelling of interdigital tissues and around the hairline of both hooves. Fever usually present. Foul-smelling discharge, toes possibly spread outward. Untreated, swelling may progress upward from the foot.
  • In most cases, treatment requires veterinary supervision, using systemic antibiotic therapy that does not affect milking or require a milk withdrawal period.

Fortunately, both conditions can be managed with a regular footbath program following recommended protocols for producers using copper or zinc sulfate footbaths, HoofMax® from AgroChem Inc. increases copper/zinc potency and promotes proper hoof hardness, which helps combat most forms of infectious hoof disease.

For those operations favoring biodegradable hoof care solutions, HealMax®products provide an economic means of treating and preventing digital dermatitis without harsh acids or formaldehyde.

For more information on preventing and treating costly hoof conditions in your herd, contact your hoof trimmer or veterinarian today.

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