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Foot passengers on a knife edge: is digital dermatitis being transmitted by hoof trimming equipment?

18 Jul, 14 | by Assistant Editor


Foot problems are one of the most serious welfare concerns facing the livestock industry today. In the UK cattle industry, digital dermatitis is a major cause of lameness and an increasingly serious problem. The disease can cause painful lesions on the skin around the hoof, as well as in other areas, including between the claws and on the udders of cows. It has also moved into sheep (known as contagious ovine digital dermatitis).


Mild digital dermatitis lesion on the bulb of a hind heel of a beef cow (from Sullivan and other 2013)

As well as negatively affecting animal welfare, digital dermatitis can adversely affect the productivity and profitability of farms. The National Animal Disease Information Service estimates that digital dermatitis costs, on average, £30 per cow per year in the UK. Affected cows produce less milk and have reduced fertility, and this accounts for the majority of economic losses due to the disease.

Clearly, digital dermatitis is a serious problem for the farming industry in the UK; it is therefore quite surprising that its epidemiology is not well understood.



A more severe  digital dermatitis lesion (Sullivan and other 2013)

A relatively new disease, the condition was identified for the first time in Italy in 1974 and wasn’t seen in the UK until the late 1980s. It is known to be caused by certain species of bacteria of the Treponema genus.

When it comes to treatment, footbathing and antibiotics have been shown to have limited effects, and as yet there is no definitive cure. Furthermore, relatively little is known about how the causal pathogens are transmitted between animals.

In a paper recently published in Veterinary Record, a group of researchers from the University of Liverpool (in collaboration with Roger Blowey from the Wood Veterinary Group) aimed to investigate a potential route of transmission for the disease – hoof trimming equipment.

Hoof/foot trimming is a standard element of livestock care. It is generally recommended that both cattle and sheep undergo a foot examination and, if necessary, have their feet trimmed at least once a year. The University of Liverpool team hypothesised that digital dermatitis-causing bacteria could be hitching a ride from animal to animal via the equipment used for hoof trimming, and designed and conducted a study to test this theory.

Six farms (two beef, two dairy and two sheep farms) in Denbighshire, Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire were included in the study. While on routine farm visits, vets were asked to randomly select animals undergoing hoof trimming and to take a sample from the hoof trimming equipment after it had been used. After the first sample was taken, the equipment was rinsed in iodine disinfectant and a second sample was taken.

‘We sampled equipment after it had been used to trim a hoof to determine whether treponemes could adhere to the knife following trimming’, said Leigh Sullivan, one of the authors of the paper. ‘Equipment was also sampled after the knife had been disinfected so we could assess whether disinfection removed treponeme DNA from the knife.’

The researchers found that treponeme DNA was present on 36 out of 37 hoof trimming instruments tested (97 per cent). They then sought to establish whether this DNA was from Treponema species that were known to cause digital dermatitis. Using PCR techniques, they found DNA of digital dermatitis-causing bacteria in the majority of cases after trimming a digital dermatitis-positive animal.

Following disinfection, the number of instruments with treponemal DNA detected was reduced to 13 of 37 (35 per cent).

‘The high detection rate of digital dermatitis treponemes on hoof trimming equipment was unexpected,’ said Dr Sullivan. ‘It appears that after trimming a symptomatic foot, treponemes are consistently able to adhere to the metal of the equipment. Additionally, in some cases, treponeme DNA was found on equipment used to trim asymptomatic animals, which could mean that treponemes were present on the foot due to another environmental factor or, although not obviously symptomatic at the time, the animal had an undetected early lesion.’

The authors of the paper conclude that the transmission of digital dermatitis-causing bacteria from animal to animal via hoof trimming equipment could be ‘significant and worrying’.  They also note that the routine disinfection method used was not always sufficient to remove all bacteria.

‘We understand from the data that this could be a contributing factor to the transmission of digital dermatitis,’ said Dr Sullivan. ‘However, other routes of transmission need to be explored to fully understand the spread of this disease.’

The authors note that this study does not prove that digital dermatitis is transmitted by foot trimming tools and that more research is needed. However, their results provide new information about the epidemiology of this important and pervasive condition.


Turning tables: Examining vets and clients

28 Jan, 13 | by sarahbrown


A recent Veterinary Record publication looks at the behaviour of vets and clients when given the opportunity to discuss animal welfare.                    

Dog vaccination appointments are a good opportunity to discuss welfare/ behavioural concerns

Dog vaccination appointments are a good opportunity to discuss welfare/ behavioural concerns


VETS are placed in high regard by owners when entrusted with their pets’ welfare, however, animal welfare, as defined by the BVA’s Ethics and Welfare group ‘relates to both the physical health and mental wellbeing of the animal.’ It has been suggested that the veterinary profession could do more to provide behaviour support.1

A paper recently published in Veterinary Record carried out a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ investigation into animal welfare discussions, videoing 17 booster vaccination consultations, involving six vets, over two small animal practices and then asking the owner to fill out a post-consultation questionnaire.2 Clients tend to visit their practice when their pet is unwell, so a booster vaccination appointment was seen as a good opportunity to discuss welfare issues.

On reviewing the video consultations, authors Mandy Roshier and Anne McBride identified five main topics of discussion: navigation (ie, directing the consultation), medical, husbandry, behaviour and cost. The vets were found to instigate discussion on all of these topics with the exception of behaviour, which was found to be shared between the vets and clients – it was also the least discussed welfare topic. The subsequent owner questionnaire, however, revealed that all clients had concerns about at least one behaviour of their dogs and five clients indicated that they considered this behaviour ‘a big problem’. Only one client mentioned their concern (jumping up on people) to the vet and this was not fully explored.  Another vet asked about a dog’s behaviour around other people; the client acknowledged that the dog was aggressive towards his wife but, again, the vet did not take this discussion any further.

The onus of identifying and reporting a behaviour issue lies with the owner, as it may not be obvious at the consultation, and the authors provide suggestions as to how vets can help to facilitate these discussions, such as developing trust and rapport, having a ‘safe’ environment to encourage disclosure and also creating opportunities to raise concerns.

Mandy had this to say: ‘In addition to vets, owners have the opportunity to access welfare information from a wide variety of sources, not all sources are reliable.  In this study, behaviour concerns were not mentioned and this leads us to ask how, or if these concerns are being addressed.  It is therefore important that vets enable their clients to discuss behaviour issues and provide appropriate support, be that directly or via referral.

This study highlights areas that could be researched further to understand the practising of behavioural medicine. It is apparent, however, that vets and owners need to work together to provide the best possible welfare for their pets.


1. McMillan, F. D. & Rollin, B. E. (2001) The presence of mind: on reunifying the animal mind and body. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 218, 1723-1727

2.  Roshier, A. & McBride, E. (2012) Canine behaviour problems between veterinarians and dogs owners during annual booster consultations. Veterinary Record dpi: 10.1136/vr.101125




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