Bovis ISSN 2398-2993

Foot rot

Synonym(s): Foul-in-the-foot, Interdigital necrobacillosis, Interdigital phlegmon, Interdigital pododermatitis, Super-foul

Contributor(s): Nick Bell, Sophie Mahendran , Mark Burnell

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  • Cause: bacterial infection by Fusobacterium necrophorum.
  • Signs: acute lameness and swelling of the foot and interdigital region.
  • Diagnosis: discharging and coalescing skin fissures in the interdigital space, with dark, moist, necrotic edges and a fetid odor.
  • Treatment: systemic antibiotics and NSAIDs.
  • Prognosis: good if treated promptly and effectively, and no spread of infection to deeper structures of the foot. A highly virulent form (“super-foul”) carries a very poor prognosis unless detected within 12 hours of onset.



  • An infectious disease of the interdigital skin and subcutaneous tissues.
    • Caused by the bacteria Fusobacterium necrophorum Fusobacterium necrophorum.
      • This bacteria is ubiquitous in the environment, and is shed in feces from the gastrointestinal tract.
      • It is a gram negative anerobic bacillus, biotypes A, B and AB.
  • Additional bacteria such as Porphyromonas levii and Prevotella intermedia may also be involved.
  • While still unproven, Treponemes associated with digital dermatitis Digital dermatitis may be involved with the peracute form of the disease known as “super-foul”.

Predisposing factors


  • Warm and moist environmental conditions in Spring and Autumn (Fall) provide ideal conditions, especially if there is a lot of slurry or pooling water.
  • Mud.
  • Mud balling between claws in drier weather.
  • Pooled dirty water.
  • Certain bedding materials such as sand or recycled wood chip. The latter can contain splinters, glass and occasionally sharp metal fragments.
  • Uncontrolled digital dermatitis Digital dermatitis can result in a range of lesions from a milder “interdigital dermatitis” with a pungent odor through to the peracute and severe “super-foul”.
  • Stubble fields, stalks from fodder crops or rough grazing pastures with thistles can predispose to interdigital foot injuries and entry of bacteria.


  • Sand bedding.
  • Incorrectly managed foot baths can predispose to epidemics.
  • Muddy tracks, gateways, feeding trough, water troughs and pasture.
  • Certain designs of automatic scrapers.
  • Immunosuppression eg bovine viral diarrhea Bovine viral diarrhea.
  • Skin trauma due to sharp ice has been reported.


  • If left untreated, the infection can extend into the deeper structures of the foot, causing deep sepsis of the navicular bursa, osteomyelitis, septic arthritis and abscess formation in the retro-articular space
  • The disease can be self-limiting in neglected cases


  • Infection requires trauma or maceration of the interdigital skin (through prolonged exposure to moisture).
  • Contamination of injured interdigital skin results in colonisation of F. necrophorum.
    • This bacteria has several virulence factors such as endotoxin, hemolysin, adhesins, proteases and leukotoxins.
    • The leukotoxins are cytotoxic for neutrophils, macrophages and epithelial cells, and can induce cell lysis to occur.
      • This leads to tissue necrosis.
  • Granulation tissue can develop in the interdigital space, with secondary bacterial infections common.
  • Cattle do not appear to develop protective immunity, so re-infection is common.


  • The lesion develops over 1-5 days.


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Further Reading


Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Metre D (2017) Pathogenesis and treatment of bovine foot rot. Veterinary clinics of North America: food animal practice 33 (2), 183–94 PubMed.
  • Alban L, Lawwson L & Agger A F (1995) Foul in the foot (interdigital necrobacillosis) in danish dairy cows — frequency and possible risk factors. Preventive veterinary medicine 24 (2), 73–82 VetMedResource.

Other sources of information

  • Egger-Danner C, Nielsen P & Fiedlerm A et al (2015) ICAR claw health atlas.
  • Shearer Jan K (2009) Chapter 52 - Infectious disorders of the foot skin. In: Food animal practice. 5th edn. Saint Louis: W B Saunders. pp 234–42.
  • Greenough P, Bergsten C, Brizzi A & Mülling C (2007) Chapter 15 - Infectious diseases and other conditions affecting the interdigital space. In: Bovine laminitis and lameness. Edinburgh: W B Saunders. pp 199–220.
  • Blowey R & Weaver D (2003) Chapter 7 - Locomotor disorders. In: Color atlas of diseases and disorders of cattle. 2nd edn. Oxford: Mosby. pp 83–122.