Dairy producers have been battling digital dermatitis (DD), more commonly known as hairy heel warts, for decades. Digital dermatitis was first discovered in Italy in 1974 and has been detected in herds in the U.S. since the mid-1980s. The disease has been reported on 70 percent of all U.S. dairies and on 95 percent of large (500-plus cows) operations, according to the USDA/NAHMS February 2009 “Dairy Cattle Health and Management Practices in the U.S.” report.
Digital dermatitis is a costly disease. Advanced cases are often associated with other hoof issues such as necrotic toe and wall lesions, severe heel erosion, and severe sole ulcers. Udder health issues such as teat necrosis and udder sores have also been attributed to DD. According to the National Animal Disease Information Service, cows that suffer from DD lameness are at higher risk for reduced fertility and milk yield. Digital dermatitis risk factors are poor foot and leg hygiene, presence of infected animals in the herd, insufficient footbath management, and improper hoof trimming practices. Once a cow is infected, it will have it for life. The disease cannot be cured. It can be managed, though, to prevent the spread to other cows through the use of footbaths, prompt treatment of active lesions, and timely hoof trimming.
In the August 10, 2017 Hoard’s Dairyman article Digital dermatitis is here to stay, UW-Extension Kewaunee County Agriculture Agent Aerica Bjurstrom shares the four distinct stages of digital dermatitis and a summary of the field survey of 11,800 cows on 45 eastern Wisconsin dairy operations on prevalence of digital dermatitis within the herd.
For more information regarding hoof health and/or animal well-being, visit UW-Extension Animal Well-being and Herd Health.